Celebrating the Columbia Dam Removal

A view of the Columbia Dam at the beginning of the removal process.

On a bright, sunny day in Warren County, Princeton Hydro celebrated the Columbia Dam Removal Project with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Commissioner Catherine McCabe, The New Jersey Nature Conservancy (event organizer), American Rivers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Service, RiverLogic Solutions, and SumCo Eco-Contracting.

Beth Styler-Barry, River Restoration Manager, New Jersey Nature Conservancy

Overlooking the soon-to-be removed, century-old, hydroelectric Columbia Dam, key stakeholders, including Princeton Hydro’s President Geoffrey Goll, P.E. and New Jersey Nature Conservancy’s Director Barbara Brummer, remarked on the success of the project, collaborative team efforts, and future benefits to the Paulins Kill habitat.

NJ Nature Conservancy’s River Restoration Manager, Beth Styler-Barry thanked project funders including NJDEP’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration, USFWS’s Fish Passage Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Bring Back The Natives program, Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, Leavens Foundation, Tom’s of Maine, and Nature Conservancy members and donors.

“We made a commitment early-on to a 10-year monitoring and measurement plan. The removal of Columbia Dam is an opportunity to gain new knowledge and generate data that builds the case for this type of restoration. We’ll be looking at everything from mussels to temperature to geomorphological changes to increasing our targeted efficiencies. We’re also going to use images taken from repeated drone flyovers to look closely at changes in topography,” said Styler-Barry.

NJDEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe with NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife and NJDEP officials.

NJDEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe added, “The Columbia Dam is ranked in the top 5% of the nearly 14,000 dams that were assessed for priority. It will give us one of the most bangs for our buck in terms of fish and native species that we’ll be able to bring back up here.” She added, “This is exactly what Natural Resources Damages funds should be used for, and we are thrilled to see it come to fruition.”

Geoffrey Goll, P.E., President, Princeton Hydro

Back in the day, this dam structure was a marvel of engineering. Because concrete was very expensive during the time of construction, a patented, innovative “ransom hollow” design was used, which means it has a hollow center with series of doorways underneath the dam, explained Geoffrey Goll, P.E., President of Princeton Hydro. However, sustainability and climate change are very important issues today and must be taken into consideration for the life-cycle of a dam.

“Removal is a logical step in the history of this dam. Dam removals are the most impactful restorations. They provide the most ecological uplift and improvement for rivers,” Goll stated.

For Princeton Hydro, this project involved every discipline we have in the firm: civil engineering, fishery biology, wetland science, hydraulics, geotechnical engineering, and regulatory work. We were contracted by American Rivers to investigate, design, and permit for the removal of this dam for the New Jersey Nature Conservancy. Our team of engineers and ecologists studied the feasibility of removal by collecting sediment samples, performed bioassay tests, and conducted a hydraulic analysis of upstream and downstream conditions. Currently, we are providing construction administration services during the removal process. This project is a great example of our ability to complete multi-disciplinary projects in-house.

Project partners ready for the first hammer with the celebratory dynamite and sledge hammers.

At the end of the press conference, project partners celebrated the anticipation of the “first hammer” in the near future with an imitation dynamite siren and plastic sledge hammers. It was truly a keystone moment for everyone involved in this project.

The remnant dam downstream has already been removed and the main dam is due to be removed very soon. Check out our previous story with a series of photos documenting this first-step in the overall dam removal process: bit.ly/ColumbiaDamRemoval. Stay tuned for photos during the main dam removal process too.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of a dozens of small and large dams in the Northeast. To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visitbit.ly/DamBarrier.

PHOTOS: Columbia Dam Removal

VIDEO: “Columbia Lake Dam when the water level was 18 inches to 2 feet lower”
Video courtesy of Matt Hencheck

In Northwest New Jersey on the Paulins Kill, an important tributary to the Delaware River, the century-old hydroelectric Columbia Dam is actively being removed. Princeton Hydro was contracted by American Rivers to investigate, design, and apply for permits for the removal of this dam for the New Jersey chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Our team of engineers and ecologists studied the feasibility of removal by collecting sediment samples, performing bioassay tests, and conducting a hydraulic analysis of upstream and downstream conditions. We’re excited to report that the Columbia Dam removal has officially commenced!

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection started draining water from Columbia Lake a few weeks ago, which was the first step in removing the dam. Princeton Hydro has subsequently been contracted by The Nature Conservancy to provide construction administration services.  Photos below show the water at lowered levels at the impoundments.

“Dewatering Impoundment” Photo by Princeton Hydro

“An aerial drone snapshot when water levels were down about 5 feet at the upper impoundment” Photo courtesy of the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy

Last week, the first hammer hit the wall of a downstream dam remnant, officially starting the removal process.

“The first hammer”  Photo courtesy of Dale Bentz, RiverLogic Solutions

The dam removal process will last a few weeks, as the contractor actively knocks down the thick concrete wall.

“Pressure and time”  Photo courtesy of Dale Bentz, RiverLogic Solutions

“Halfway there”  Photo courtesy of Dale Bentz, RiverLogic Solutions

Once the dam is removed, there is a high probability that populations of American Shad and River Herring will be restored. It may also enhance American Eel migration. As a coldwater fishery, this reach also has significant potential for trout species, as well as Smallmouth Bass.

(Top) Before: Photo of the Columbia Dam before construction. (Bottom) After: Princeton Hydro’s rendering of what the river will look like once the dam is removed.

“It is very exciting to be a part of such a monumental effort for the restoration of the Paulins Kill. This river, once a major migration route for diadromous fish like American Shad, will once again be a nursery for this Delaware River icon,” said Geoffrey Goll, PE, President and co-founder of Princeton Hydro. “The removal of these dams will also restore the functions and values of a riparian corridor and floodplain, eliminate costs to the taxpayer for the maintenance of a dam and lake, and provide additional riverine recreational opportunities. I expect to see the same resilience and positive impact to the Delaware River as the recent barrier removals on another major NJ tributary, the Musconetcong River. It is a win-win for NJ, and with The Nature Conservancy at the helm and expert guidance from American Rivers, it has been an experience of a career.”

This project could not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the following partner organizations: The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey, American Rivers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, RiverLogic Solutions, NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Service, and SumCo EcoContracting.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of a dozens of small and large dams in the Northeast. To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visitbit.ly/DamBarrier.


This video from 2016 features the Nature Conservancy’s New Jersey State Director Barbara Brummer, Ph.D. speaking on the Columbia Dam removal. Video credit: NJ Herald.