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.

New Video Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Wild & Scenic Rivers Act

Credit: NPS.gov

Communities across the nation are preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This landmark legislation passed by Congress in October 1968 safeguards the free-flowing character of rivers by precluding them from being dammed, while allowing the public to enjoy them. It encourages river management and promotes public participation in protecting streams.

As part of the celebration, the National Park Service released a new video highlighting a handful of ‘Wild and Scenic’ designated rivers in the Northeast – the Farmington, Sudbury, Assabet, Concord, and Musconetcong Rivers – along with the organizations and community volunteers who work together to protect and care for these rivers.

Princeton Hydro is proud to work with two of the river stewards featured in the video: Musconetcong Watershed Association (MWA) and Farmington River Watershed Association (FRWA).

The Musconetcong River:

Designated ‘Wild and Scenic’ in 2006, the Musconetcong River is a 45.7-mile-long tributary of the Delaware River in northwestern New Jersey.

Princeton Hydro has been working with MWA in the areas of river restoration, dam removal, and engineering consulting since 2003 when the efforts to remove the Gruendyke Mill Dam in Hackettstown, NJ began. To date, Princeton Hydro has worked with MWA to remove five dams on the Musconetcong River, the most recent being the Hughesville Dam.

As noted in the video, the removal of these dams, especially the Hughesville dam, was a major milestone in restoring migratory fish passage along the Musconetcong. Only a year after the completion of the dam removal, American shad returned to the “Musky” for the first time in 250 years.

“The direction the river is moving bodes well for its recovery,” said Princeton Hydro President Geoff Goll, P.E., who was interviewed in the 50th anniversary video. “This multidisciplinary approach using ecology and engineering, paired with a dynamic stakeholder partnership, lead to a successful river restoration, where native fish populations returned within a year. ”

The Farmington River:

The Upper Farmington River, designated as ‘Wild and Scenic’ in 1994, stretches 14-miles through Connecticut starting above Riverton through the New Hardford/Canton town line. The river is important for outdoor recreation and provides critical habitat for countless wildlife.

Credit: FWRA.orgBack in 2012, Princeton Hydro worked with the FRWA and its project partners to remove the Spoonville Dam. Built in 1899 on the site of a natural 25-foot drop in the riverbed, the dam was originally a hydropower facility. The hurricanes and flood of 1955 breached the dam, opening a 45-foot gap and scattering massive dam fragments in the riverbed downstream. The remnant of the main dam persisted for decades as a 128-foot long, 25-foot high obstacle in the channel. The river poured through the breach in a steep chute that stopped American shad from proceeding further upstream to spawn.

The project was completed, from initial site investigation through engineering assessment and final design, in just six months. The dam removal helped to restore historic fish migrations in the Farmington River (including the American shad) and increase recreation opportunities.

Wild & Scenic Rivers Act:

Credit: NPS.govAs of December 2014 (the last designation), the National ‘Wild and Scenic’ System protects 12,734 miles of 208 rivers in 40 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; this is a little more than one-quarter of 1% of the nation’s rivers. By comparison, more than 75,000 large dams across the country have modified at least 600,000 miles, or about 17%, of American rivers.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Act and in an effort to designate many more miles of river as ‘Wild and Scenic,’ four federal agencies and four nonprofit groups are coordinating nationwide events and outreach. Managing agencies are the Bureau of Land ManagementFish and Wildlife ServiceForest Service, and National Park Service, along with American RiversAmerican WhitewaterRiver Network and River Management Society. Go here for more info: www.wildandscenicrivers50.us.