By Rachel Calabro, Riverkeeper
This past winter, Save The Bay participated in the removal of three dams from tributaries to the Taunton River, opening up miles of habitat to migrating fish and improving public safety around the aging structures. The three dams bring to six, the total number of dams removed in the Taunton River watershed, with more in the planning stages.
The 175-year-old Carver Cotton Gin Dam on the 5.5-mile Satucket River in East Bridgewater has been drained for many years, but it continued to impound water and limit fish passage. With the removal of this dam, river herring can now migrate up into East Bridgewater and into Stump Brook and access more than 650 acres of spawning grounds further down the waterway to the Atlantic Ocean, a migratory passage that hasn’t been open for more than a century. The Carver Cotton Gin Dam had previously been deemed a hazard by the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety and labeled obsolete by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Removal of the dam not only opens up the Satucket River fish run, but also helps East Bridgewater weather heavy storms and precipitation, with the risk of dam failure eliminated.
|Before West Britannia Dam removal.|
The West Britannia Dam at the old Reed and Barton silversmith factory in downtown Taunton was the last of three dam removals on the Mill River, opening up the full length of the Mill River to herring for the first time in 200 years. Since the dam at Taunton State Hospital was removed in 2012 and the Whittenton Pond dam in 2013, river herring have returned in large numbers, along with such other species as sea lamprey. Removal of the three Mill River dams also reduces threats of dam failure and flooding downstream in downtown Taunton and will help improve water quality These before and after photos show the results of the new channel construction upstream of the mill.
|After West Britannia Dam removal.|
River herring, including alewife and blueback herring, are an important food source for cod, haddock, and striped bass, as well as marine mammal and birds. The herring migrate from saltwater to freshwater to spawn, and while there, they play an important role in water quality by contributing important nutrients. The Taunton River watershed has supported one of the largest herring runs in the region, but the thousands of dams installed for industrial-revolution-era factories have significantly fragmented the spawning and rearing habitat available. Today, river herring’s dwindling numbers have led them to be named a “species of concern” in the Greater Atlantic Region.
In East Taunton, the old wooden Barstow’s Pond dam on the Cotley River had been in such poor condition for many years that the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety ordered its gates be opened and the pond behind it drained. The dam removal project here opens open eight miles of riverine habitat to river herring, American eels, seal lamprey and other native species. The dam was located in a highly sensitive area for historic Native American artifacts, and an archaeologist has been on hand to photograph the area. Much of Eastern Taunton along the edges of the Taunton River are believed to have been a complex of Native American villages dating back thousands of years. By restoring these rivers to their pre-industrial state, we are also preserving the landscape that was original to the area and restoring the fish and wildlife that were once plentiful.
These projects have been successful because of strong partnerships between local groups, federal and state agencies, and other partners. The high ecological value of the habitat in the Taunton watershed is part of the why the river has been designated a federal Wild & Scenic River.