The Path to Restoring the Kennebec River in Maine

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Today, the future of the Kennebec River is at a crossroads. Maine can continue the very successful restoration of the river that has taken place over the past 20 years and help to registerthe Atlantic salmon to disappear. We can improve the health of the river and improve communities along the Kennebec. To do this, however, it will be necessary Brookfield — the multibillion-dollar international energy giant that owns four dams between Waterville and Skowhegan — to be a productive partner.

To help Mainers better understand this opportunity and the issues involved, we’ve compiled some answers to frequently asked questions and explained how you can help.

Why now? Why Kennebec?

Sandy River in Avon, Maine which is prime habitat for Atlantic salmon. Photo by J. Monkman/NRCM

The Kennebec was once Maine’s most productive river for saltwater fish, with Atlantic salmon in the hundreds of thousands. The removal of Edwards Dam in Augusta in 1999 was one of Maine’s greatest environmental success stories, with millions of river herring returning each year, along with shad, sturgeon and other species .

But the good news ends at Brookfield Dam in Waterville, the first of a series of four dams that prevent Atlantic salmon from reaching the Sandy River, a Kennebec tributary that has some of the best habitat in spawning and farming of Maine salmon. The dams block access and create dangerous conditions for Atlantic salmon and other marine fish that support the health of commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Maine.

Today, Atlantic salmon are struggling to survive and have been classified as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Fisheries biologists believe Atlantic salmon will disappear in the United States without safe access to the Sandy River to spawn. Removing these four dams would open up the Kennebec River at its confluence with the Sandy, helping Atlantic salmon recover and restoring millions of American shad, American eel, and river herring.

How does Brookfield harm salmon and other fish species?

Brookfield’s four dams between Waterville and Skowhegan produce just 0.43% of Maine’s electricity, but threaten salmon with extinction and damage the habitat of other marine fish.

The damage caused by these dams far outweighs the benefits of their low renewable energy output. That’s why the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) and our conservation partners have called for the removal of these small dams to restore the health of the river, while keeping much larger dams in place further east. inland that produce most of the region’s hydroelectric power. .

In 1998, the NRCM and our partners in the Kennebec Coalition signed a legal agreement with the owners of these dams which was to lead to the rapid restoration of marine fish in the Kennebec River. Twenty-four years later, things have only gotten worse because Brookfield and the former dam owners have failed to live up to their responsibilities and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has not enforce the agreement.

Brookfield violates both the 1998 legal agreement and the Endangered Species Act. Instead of working with state and federal agencies to find solutions, Brookfield sought to change Maine state laws in its favor, sued the state of Maine and attacked the work of Maine marine scientists. The company proposes to construct obsolete fish passage facilities it won’t work in Maine because they haven’t worked for Atlantic salmon or American shad anywhere else in the world where the fish have to pass four dams.

And the Sappi mill?

Maine Governor Janet Mills, state agency officials and conservation organizations, including the NRCM, have all made it clear that the only way forward for the restoration of the river they support involves the protection of the Sappi factory in Somerset and its jobs. We believe that both goals are achievable: a healthy mill and a healthy river.

The Shawmut dam is currently creating an impoundment which serves as the source of water for the Sappi plant. When similar sized dams were removed, new infrastructure was installed to provide an alternative water source. This result should be achievable for Sappi. It is also possible that a nature-like diversion will be constructed around the Shawmut Dam to allow fish to reach habitat upstream. If these problems cannot be solved, the Shawmut dam would remain and huge progress could still be made through the removal of three dams.

Brookfield knows that’s the position of parties calling for the removal of its dams, but the company insists on trying to scare the people of Maine with misinformation in its efforts to continue profiting at the expense of our environment.

This is our chance to act. What can be done?

Currently, the Shawmut Dam, the third dam upstream of Waterville, is undergoing a license renewal. This involves a detailed review by the federal government that only happens once every 30 to 50 years, so this is our best chance to shape the future of Kennebec. Here is an overview of the various agencies and organizations that are involved.

  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authorizes dams with input from state and federal agencies — a process that involves opportunities for public input and can take years. Currently, the Shawmut Dam, the third dam upstream of Waterville, is undergoing a license renewal. As part of this process, FERC is developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the four dams. A draft EIS is expected to be released in August 2022, for public comment, and a final EIA completed in 2023.
  • NOAA Fisheries scientists review plans and proposals for FERC license renewals to protect endangered species. NOAA Fisheries opposed Brookfield’s erroneous request to renew the Shawmut Dam license and recommended the dam’s removal. NOAA Fisheries is currently preparing a biological advisory, as required by the Endangered Species Act, to determine whether the operations of the dam put the endangered Atlantic salmon at risk of extinction – which we calls the endangerment of the species.
  • Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) scientists monitor the health of the state’s tidal rivers, including the Kennebec. DMR also opposed Shawmut’s new license and recommended the removal of the dam.
  • Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) scientists review water quality permits to operate dams. The DEP indicated it would deny the permit for the Shawmut Dam last year, prompting Brookfield to withdraw its application and reapply. As part of the FERC permit renewal process, the DEP must first certify that continued operation of the dam will meet Maine water quality standards.
  • Non-governmental organizations A wide variety of nonprofit conservation organizations representing Maine residents are involved in efforts to restore the river. The Maine Natural Resources Council has joined the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Conservation Law Foundation and Maine Rivers in suing Brookfield for his repeated violations of the Endangered Species Act. Other groups may be interested in purchasing and removing dams, as has happened in other river restoration projects.

man fishing at KennebecHow can Maine residents get involved?

Maine residents played a vital role in advocating for the removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta in 1999, which allowed the river to come back to life. Mainers increasingly see this as the critical next step in continuing this successful effort to achieve a new balance for the river and its riverside communities.

Hundreds of Mainers have already started speak out against damage caused by the Brookfield dams between Waterville and Augusta. You can join this effort to create a new future for the Kennebec River. Sign up to receive email updates from us about when you can weigh yourself.

Emmie Theberge, CNRM Outreach Director

Banner photo: Lockwood Dam in Waterville, by J.Monkman/NRCM

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