WASHINGTON -- In an unprecedented action, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has ordered the removal of the 160-year-old Edwards Dam in Augusta, Maine in order to benefit the habitat and spawning potential for nine species of migratory fish that use the Kennebec River.
FERC's decision denies the application of Edwards Manufacturing Company and the City of Augusta to relicense the aging dam and requires the dam to be removed at the dam owner's expense.
This action represents the first time in history that FERC has denied an application to relicense a dam. It also marks the first time FERC has ordered removal of a dam for which the dam owner was seeking a new license.
The announcement was applauded by members of the Kennebec Coalition-including American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Council of Main, Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley Chapter -- which have been waging a decade-long campaign to restore the Kennebec through removal of the Edwards Dam.
"The Edwards decision reflects a change in the way the federal government looks at dams," said Margaret Bowman, Director of Hydropower Programs at American Rivers. "In the past, FERC has viewed dams as permanent structures on the landscape. With the Edwards decision, FERC has recognized that, just like all other things, dams have a finite life cycle. Edwards Dam has provided many beneficial uses over its 160-year life. But now it is causing more harm than good. FERC has recognized this and called for the dam to be removed.
"If any dam deserves to be the first that FERC orders removed, Edwards Dam does," said Charles Gauvin, Trout Unlimited's president. "Edwards is a dinosaur. Throughout the northeast and the northwest, sea-run fish, like salmon, have been decimated by dam after dam. Not only will the removal of the Edwards Dam help restore one of Maine's few remaining native runs of Atlantic salmon, but it sets the stage for the restoration of other rivers where the ecological and economic value of healthy fisheries outweigh the benefits of dams."
With removal of the dam, migrating fish would have access to the longest stretch of migrating fish spawning habitat north of the Hudson River for the first time since 1837 when the dam was built.
"FERC's decision is a big win for the Kennebec River and for river restoration efforts across the country," added Bowman. "This decision marks the first time that, when FERC weighed the power produced by the dam against the value of a free flowing river, the river won."
In addition to members of the Kennebec Coalition, other entities who support removal of the Edwards Dam include: Governor Angus King, Senators Snowe and Collins, Representative Tom Allen, former Governor John McKernan, U.S. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt. Maine State Planning Office, Main Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
FERC called for the dam owners to submit a plan for dam removal within one year. FERC will also call a technical conference to consult with all parties on dam removal.
In reaching its recommendation, FERC conducted an independent analysis of three options: 1) approving the relicensing request submitted by Edwards Manufacturing and the City of Augusta, Maine; 2) approving a relicensing only if the dam owners invested nearly $10 million on a fish passage system deemed to be necessary by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to assist some species of fish to travel upstream; and 3) retirement and removal of the dam.
FERC concluded that retirement and removal of the dam would be the "best" approach as part of a comprehensive plan for improving and developing the Kennebec River Basin. FERC determined that installing a $10 million fishway wo uld be 1.7 times more costly than retiring and removing the dam. Removing the dam would allow shortnosed sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, striped bass, and rainbow smelt to reach 17 miles of historic upstream spawning habitat [these four particular migratory fish do not use fishways and thus would not be helped by installation of such a system]; and removal of the dam would result in an overall increase in wetland habitat, recreational boating, and fishing benefits.
In 1986, Congress passed legislation requiring FERC -- through its hydropower licensing activities -- to reach an appropriate balance between power generation and environmental protection. In all cases prior to this decision, FERC has addressed significant environmental impacts through the imposition of license conditions (e.g. requiring fish passage systems as part of a licensing). With this decision, however, FERC determined that continued operation of the Edwards Dam caused unacceptable environmental damage that could not be adequately addressed through any action short of dam removal.
Return to the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water News Homepage