For thousands of years, the Ipswich River ran free from source to sea, and bountiful runs of migratory fish returned from the Atlantic every year to spawn. Then dams were built to power industry, stopping fish migrations and greatly changing the nature of the river. Most of the 70 or more dams in the watershed no longer serve their intended purpose, but they continue to block the movement of fish and drown riffles and natural rapids. If restored, these natural river features would provide important habitats for fish and other creatures, add oxygen to the river’s waters, and offer us beautiful views now buried under several feet of water.
Dam owners across Massachusetts must maintain and repair their dams and are liable for any safety hazards—many are opting to remove their dams to remove liability and maintenance costs. Owners are helped by generous state and federal programs that fund removal of dams that impact native ecosystems. The video below from American Rivers gives some excellent background on dam removal.
Removing dams on the Ipswich River will be a multi-year process. First the dam, pond and surrounding site must be closely studied to see what effects its removal would have on safety, infrastructure, and the health of the river. Initial studies often ask: Are there are any pollutants in the sediments behind the dam? Will removing the dam reduce or exacerbate flooding? And, will removing the dam threaten or help nearby buildings or bridges? Once this study is complete and if the owner decides that they want to remove the dam, they develop an engineering plan to outline removal and site restoration. Only once this plan is approved by local, state and federal agencies, can the dam removal actually begin.
IRWA is collaborating with dam owners, state and federal agencies, and funders to study the feasibility of removing three dams: The Ipswich Mills Dam in downtown Ipswich, the South Middleton Dam in Middleton and Curtis Pond dam on Boston Brook in Middleton, a tributary to the Ipswich River. Taken together, these three studies represent some of the most significant advances to date towards better understanding the problems dams pose to the Ipswich River and to identifying potential solutions.