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.

The Restoration of Bound Brook

To the delight of fish and environmentalists alike, an important step has been made in the removal of the aging spillway of Hunters Pond Dam in Scituate and Cohasset, Massachusetts. The spillway was notched to ensure a gradual release of water from the impoundment, letting Bound Brook flow free again after being dammed for centuries.

As the first barrier upstream from the Atlantic Ocean, the dam’s removal restores 5-miles of river spawning ground and habitat for alewife, blueback herring, American eel, rainbow smelt, sea lamprey and other important species. The removal of Hunters Pond Dam also reduces the threat of dam failure.

Princeton Hydro is proud to be working on this project with T Ford Company, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many other great partners. The project is funded by grants from the Massachusetts Department of Ecological Restoration and the NOAA.

The project also includes rebuilding a culvert, removing a concrete spillway, and replacing a water main. Stay tuned for more!

Natural VS. Artificial Lakes

In addition to deep versus shallow, waterbodies can also be compared and contrasted as naturally occurring or as the result of an artificial impoundment or reservoir. While there are a wide variety of natural lakes -from the glacial lakes of northern regions, to oxbow lakes adjacent to rivers, to coastal lakes that can be connected to the ocean – most of these natural systems have a number of common characteristics. Some of these include variable nutrient and sediment loading (from low to high, depending on the nature of the watershed) and low to moderate watershed-to-lake area ratios. In addition, natural waterbodies tend to have distinct and sometimes extensive littoral zone fringe habitat along the shoreline. Littoral habitat is the interface between the land and the open waters of a lake. Typically, rooted aquatic macrophytes (plants and mat algae) are found in the littoral zone, along with a number of aquatic organisms that use this habitat for food and/or cover. Thus, the littoral zone of lake is frequently the most productive areas of this ecosystem.

Graphic adapted from www.cues.cfans_umin.edu

Graphic adapted from www.cues.cfans_umin.edu

In contrast, large artificial impoundments, frequently called reservoirs, are waterbodies typically created by placing a dam across a stream or river (see below). This often results in the triangular shape of a reservoir; the deepest portion is located just behind the dam. Unlike many natural lakes that have a number of small inlet or inflow streams, a reservoir typically has one main inflow, which is essentially the river or stream that was originally dammed. Traveling upgradient from the dam towards the main inlet, water depth will decline. Additionally, many reservoirs are a type of hybrid of natural lakes and rivers. The upgradient/inflow part of the reservoir functions more like a riverine system, while the main body of the reservoir near the dam functions more like a lake (see below).

Graphic adapted from Reservoir Limnology: Ecological Perspectives, edited by K.W. Thornton, B.L. Kimmel and F.E. Payne, 1990

Graphic adapted from Reservoir Limnology: Ecological Perspectives, edited by K.W. Thornton, B.L. Kimmel and F.E. Payne, 1990

Since reservoirs are essentially dammed rivers, they tend to have very large watershed-to -lake area ratios, which means they tend to experience substantially higher nutrient and sediment loads compared to natural lakes. Thus, the level of productivity (algae growth) in the open waters of a reservoir is substantially higher than those of a natural lake. This means reservoirs have the tendency to experience larger and more frequent algal blooms. High rates of sediment loads also means rates of sedimentation will be higher in reservoirs compared to natural lakes. Finally, since the water level of reservoirs are highly dependent on inflow from the main riverine source, as well as water withdrawals in the case in drinking water supplies, the establishment of a littoral zone in reservoirs tends to be very limited.

In summary, a reservoir of comparable size to a natural lake will typically have a higher level of algal productivity, higher rates of sedimentation, and a smaller amount of biological diversity (with the general absence of a littoral zone). Thus, water quality problems can be larger and more frequent in reservoirs when compared to many natural lakes. Since many reservoirs are vital sources of potable water for millions of people throughout the United States, the general management activities for a reservoir tends to be higher relative to many natural lakes.

Join us next time, when we will discuss lake and pond productivity, the role the watershed plays in productivity, and how this impacts their recreational, potable and ecological value.