With dam removed, East Aspetuck River flows free
NEW MILFORD — The Old Paper Mill Dam in New Milford is no more, and the East Aspetuck River is flowing free once again.
The project is part of a larger effort to remove old dams to restore river ecosystems and fish habitats. It is the first one The Nature Conservancy has done in Litchfield County.
“Taking out Old Papermill Pond Dam will provide multiple benefits for nature and people,” said Sally Harold, the project manager for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.
By removing the dam, the fish will not only be able to swim through the river better but it will also prevent the water from getting too hot for the trout, which was happening with the impoundment above the dam. It will also allow the sediment to flow downstream again.
All of the man-made materials will be hauled away and the bulk of the sediment will be stored in three areas, allowing the rest to travel downstream and restore the river to its natural state. This can be done because the sediment isn’t contaminated and The Nature Conservancy will continue to monitor what travels downstream.
Removing this dam has been in the works for about 10 years because sediment was building up behind it, said John Deluca, committee chairman for the Ousatonic Fish & Game Protective Association, which owns the site.
“It got to the point where the spot was unusable and it was deteriorating the river,” he said, adding it was almost surreal to see the dam finally coming out after all of the group’s work.
The dam also presented safety concerns and was a liability.
The whole project is expected to cost about $350,000. It is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the compensation fund General Electric had to establish to remedy its release of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the Housatonic River.
Once the group received a grant five years ago, they began working with Princeton Hydro to determine the best way to address the dam and decided to remove it. They then brought The Nature Conservancy on board to oversee the project. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also involved.
The dam was built in 1855 and originally was designed to power the mill down the road.
At some point, a wall was built, redirecting the river as it runs now and providing a swimming hole. The Ousatonic Fish & Game Protective Association acquired it about 15 years ago and uses the site for seminars, fishing and teaching children about the outdoors.
“There’s little dams like this all over the place,” said Becky Cohn, the project coordinator with SumCo Eco-contracting, the firm removing the dam and restoring the river. “You probably don’t realize they’re there until you’re the one driving up to and taking it out.”
There are more than 4,400 dams in Connecticut, most of which are privately owned, Harold said.
She said she appreciates any chance to work with these owners to restore the rivers and help the fish.
Harold said the bulk of their dam removals happen along the coast because the grant funding is generally available to help migratory species. Because the Housatonic River has a lot of hydroelectric dams, the river is generally not selected for these grants because it’s hard for the fish to get through.
Laura Wildman, the engineer on the project with Princeton Hydro, said the dams that are removed are obsolete and generally aren’t properly maintained. She said they won’t take one out if it has a reservoir, or if it’s still used to generate power or floodplain control.
She said this particular project is pretty standard. The spillway will be removed, but the earthen part will remain, keeping a part of the industrial history there. Rocks will also be added to the retaining wall to create a habitat.
“It’s a low hanging fruit,” Wildman said. “It’s not complicated.”
Cohn said they actually expect to finish up in two weeks, the lower end of the estimated timetable, as long as there isn’t a lot of rain or melted snow to raise the water level.