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New Grants To Help With Dam Removal

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2018 12:03:52 AM
Modified: 7/19/2018 4:11:17 PM

Royalton — Conservationists inched a bit closer to a vision of free-flowing waterways this week, when a nonprofit announced nearly $600,000 to fund watershed projects that include the removal of a few of the Upper Valley’s “deadbeat dams.”

That’s the phrase that Mary Russ, director of the Royalton-based White River Partnership (a grant recipient), used to describe dams that no longer serve any useful purpose, but which continue to disrupt the natural water flow in a way that can impact water quality and prevent fish passage.

“We have video of fish trying to jump up and smacking right into the concrete,” said Russ.

And the dams that are not producing active benefits are more likely to fall into disrepair, and become a safety hazard — of the 1,219 dams on the state inventory, 35 percent were rated as being in poor condition, and 16 percent were classified as having high or significant hazard potential, in a 2014 survey of the state’s infrastructure performed by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

But some of the grant money being awarded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation will go to address these types of problems.

The largest individual grant, $248,000, will support removal of the Norwich Reservoir Dam along Charles Brown Brook in Norwich, while the White River Partnership will receive about $95,000 to further efforts to remove three deadbeat dams.

The Norwich Reservoir Dam is about a mile upstream from the Old Norwich Pool swimming hole, where the structure there was washed out in Tropical Storm Irene and cleaned up last year.

Ron Rhodes, a river steward with the Connecticut River Conservancy, said the reservoir site has been ranked in the highest possible category for protection by the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, and would open up 43 miles of waterway. He said the town’s benefits will extend beyond the added fish resources, improved water quality, and community flood resiliency.

“Norwich will get all the sand, gravel and rock we remove to use for future road projects,” Rhodes said.

The White River Partnership spent $57,000 to help purchase the 14-foot-tall Hyde Dam, which was built at the site of a former saw mill and which has been tying up the Second Branch of the White River for decades.

The next step, said Russ, will be to commission engineering design plans to remove the dam safely, thereby opening 60 miles of the White River.

The Partnership will spend the remaining $38,000 on plans to remove the Upper and Lower Eaton Dams on the First Branch of the White River in Royalton.

“They’ve been there since the 1700s, for 250 years,” said Russ. “They’re crumbling and falling apart. There are big pieces of concrete flowing down the river.”

Because those dams have slowed the water and allowed it to warm, Russ said, it is believed that the dams are major contributors to high levels of bacteria along that stretch of river. They’ve been monitoring bacteria levels for years, and hope that the data will document an improvement, which would support the argument for the removal of other dams across the state.

A total of 13 projects were supported with the funds, derived from the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund, which was created in 1997 as part of a settlement agreement between the owners of three dams at Fifteen Mile Falls near Littleton, N.H., and Ryegate, Vt., and local communities and state and federal agencies. A year ago, the fund supported roughly $500,000 in grants.

Other watershed protections being supported by this year’s grant include $19,000 to protect 33 acres of floodplain forest and other riparian habitat in Haverhill, and $11,000 to the Vermont River Conservancy to support canoe-campsite development and management along the Connecticut River.

In all, the fund has awarded more than $14.4 million in grants, and is expected to provide a total of $22 million. 

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com.

Correction

A $248,000 grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation will help with removal of the Norwich Reservoir Dam on the Charles Brown Brook. Another dam connected to the former Norwich Pool, which is about a mile downstream and was washed out in Tropical Storm Irene, was removed last year. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the two projects.




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