WATCH: Time-Lapse of Columbia Dam Removal

It’s been two and a half years since the removal of the Columbia Dam on the Paulins Kill in Northern New Jersey. In that time, American Shad have been discovered upstream of the former dam, a major indicator of improved water quality. The following time-lapse videos highlight the amazing efforts by the project team to reconnect the floodplain and restore fish passage, enabling the river to return to its former ecological state.

Removal of the Columbia Dam. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Contracted by New Jersey Nature Conservancy and American Rivers, our team of engineers and ecologists designed, permitted, and oversaw the removal of the Columbia Dam, the largest dam removal to date in New Jersey. Additional project partners include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NJ Department of Environmental Protection, Riverlogic, and SumCo EcoContracting.

Construction of fish passage structures. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Removal of the Remnant Dam. Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

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

Two Dams Removed in the Hudson River Watershed

The Hudson River provides habitat for approximately 85% of New York State’s fish and wildlife species, 200 of which rely on the Hudson River for spawning, nursery, and forage habitat. According to Riverkeeper, a nonprofit focused on protecting and restoring the Hudson River, there are approximately 1,600 dams, mostly obsolete, fragmenting the rivers and streams of the Hudson Valley and blocking fish from reaching critical habitat.

The recent removal of two defunct dams – The Strooks Felt Dam and Furnace Brook Barrier #1 – marks an important milestone in the Riverkeeper’s journey to “Undam the Hudson River” and restore fish passage between the Hudson and the Atlantic Ocean. 

The removal of these dams, located on tributaries of the Hudson River, are especially important to depleted populations of migratory fish like river herring and American eel, who are a vital part of the coastal ecosystem and spawn in freshwater tributaries. 

Funding for both projects was provided by the Environmental Protection Fund and administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Riverkeeper led the effort to remove the obsolete dams, with Princeton Hydro providing dam and stream assessment, surveying, engineering design, and permitting assistance. 


Strooks Felt Dam

For the first time in 300 years, fish in the Quassaick Creek will be able to move upstream thanks to the dismantling of the 106-year-old, 4-foot-high Strooks Felt Dam in Newburgh, New York, located 60 miles north of New York City in the critical estuary of the Hudson River. 

The dam site was dominated by gravel, cobble, boulder, and even bedrock steps, indicating a high-energy stream with a high sediment transport potential. This dam removal, like many others, released this coarse sediment and allowed the creek to carry it to downstream reaches. This coarse sediment forms habitat features like riffes, bars, and pools that are crucial components of healthy streams and rivers. Releasing the impounded bedload by removing these dams is key to increasing the resilience of freshwater streams like Quassaick Creek. 

Downstream of spillway facing west

The dam removal, which was completed in October 2020, involved excavating the concrete spillway before reshaping and re-grading bedload sediment behind the dam.

Historically, the Strooks Felt Dam was part of a series of older dams that sat in slightly different positions in the same area and supplied former mill operations. Other nonobstructive structures associated with the former mill were left as part of an enduring history, allowing anyone who visits the site or combs through the records to visualize what was there before. The obsolete dam, however, will no longer block water, sediment, or critical fish passage

Project collaborators included: Riverkeeper, Orange County and the City of Newburgh, the Town of New Windsor, DEC Hudson River Estuary Program, Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, Steelways Inc, RiverLogic Solutions, and Princeton Hydro. 

Two additional dams farther upstream from the former Strooks Felt Dam site are in the early planning stages for removal.

 


Furnace Brook Barrier #1

The 5-foot-high, 75-foot-long Furnace Brook Barrier #1 was dismantled in Westchester County, New York in mid-November 2020. The removal of this dam brings migratory fish one-step closer to reconnecting with their ancestral habitat.

Furnace Brook Dam removal. Photo courtesy of RiverKeeper.

The positive results were immediate. Riverkeeper stated in a recently published article, “As soon as a path was cleared, we spotted two fish – white suckers, a freshwater species – darting up to the previously unreachable part of the brook. We can’t wait to come back in the spring and see whether herring, returning from the ocean, are migrating upstream…”

The dam clearing process at Furnace Brook involved the removal of the dam and an existing collapsed former concrete bridge span downstream of the dam. Stone masonry boulders from the former spillway were then redistributed and partially embedded in the restored channel to enhance aquatic habitat and increase bank stabilization

Project collaborators included Rivekeeper, NYSDEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program, Westchester County Parks Department, Westchester County, the dam owner, the town of Cortlandt, the Friends of the McAndrews Estate, and Princeton Hydro. 

Upstream of this project, Princeton Hydro is developing an initial engineering design and sediment management plan for the removal of another, larger dam.

The collapsed concrete bridge deck was also removed as part of this project.

 

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of dozens of small and large dams throughout the Northeast. To learn more about our dam engineering and removal services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.

UPDATE: Hudson River Habitat Restoration Study Completed & Chief’s Report Signed

Photo from USACE

As part of the multi-faceted effort to restore the vital Hudson River ecosystem, the USACE New York District launched the Hudson River Habitat RestorationPrinceton Hydro led the Hudson River Habitat Restoration Integrated Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment for USACE. For this project, we established and evaluated baseline conditions through data collection and analysis; developed restoration objectives and opportunities; prepared an Environmental Assessment; and designed conceptual restoration plans for eight sites.

This week, Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, USACE Commanding General and 55th U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, signed the Hudson River Habitat Restoration Ecosystem Restoration Chief’s Report, which represents the completion of the study and makes it eligible for congressional authorization.

As stated in the USACE-issued news release, “The Chief’s Report recommends three individual ecosystem restoration projects including Henry Hudson Park, Schodack Island Park, and Moodna Creek within the 125-mile study area from the Federal Lock and Dam at Troy, NY to the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. These projects would restore a total of approximately 22.8 acres of tidal wetlands, 8.5 acres of side-channel and wetland complex, and 1,760 linear feet of living shoreline with 0.6 acres of tidal wetlands. The plan would also reconnect 7.8 miles of tributary habitat to the Hudson River through the removal of 3 barriers along Moodna Creek.”

“The signing of this Chief’s Report is a significant milestone for the HRHR Project,” said Col. Matthew Luzzatto, USACE New York District Commander. “This has truly been a team effort and I want to thank our non-federal sponsors, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Department of State, and all of our engineers, scientists, and partners at the local, state and federal level for their unwavering support.”

Read the full press release here. And, for more background information on the Feasibility Study and proposed restoration work, check out our original blog post:

Feasibility Study Identifies Key Opportunities for Hudson River Habitat Restoration

Engineering Assessment of West Point’s Lower Cragston Dam

Highland Falls, New York, which is 40 miles north of Manhattan, stretches along the Hudson River and is populated by many lakes and ponds, including the Cragston Lakes (a.k.a. Lower Cragston). For the community’s 4,000 residents, living in an area where water is abundant has many benefits, but the benefits are not without flood risk.

The 9-acre Lower Cragston Lake, the second largest lake in the Highland Falls area,   contains the Lower Cragston Dam, which is owned by the United States Military Academy at West Point and managed through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District (USACE NYD). According to the Office of the New York State Comptroller, Lower Cragston Dam is classified as a “High Hazard” dam. The dam is approximately 10 feet high and 210 feet long, and consists of an earthen embankment with a concrete core wall, a concrete ogee spillway, and a low level outlet.

In order to ensure safety to the surrounding community and mitigate any potential flood risk associated with the dam’s operations, Princeton Hydro was contracted by the USACE NYD to perform an Engineering Assessment for Lower Cragston Dam. Engineering Assessments and periodic safety inspections are intended to provide an independent review of an existing dam structure to ensure that all components are functioning properly and in compliance with current dam safety regulations.

Princeton Hydro utilized a multidisciplinary approach to perform the Lower Cragston Dam Engineering Assessment, which consisted of:

  • Document Review: In order to understand the site and to develop a proper drilling scope and methodology, our team conducted a thorough review of existing documentation, including historic engineering plans, dam inspection reports, and an Emergency Action Plan.
  • Geotechnical and Geophysical Investigation and Reporting: This is one of the most significant aspects of a dam safety evaluation and is often the most efficient means of obtaining critical subsurface information. The information obtained from these field studies is used to devise safety improvements if determined to be necessary.
  • Bathymetric and Topographic Survey: The bathymetric survey entails the accurate mapping of water depths and the quantification of the amount of accumulated, unconsolidated sediment. The topographic survey looks at the height, depth, size, and location of the dam and surrounding area.
  • Hydrologic & Hydraulic Analysis: This analysis looks at the watershed and spillway structure related to the extent of potential flooding from storm recurrence intervals within the study area. The data helps to evaluate measures that can reduce and mitigate existing and anticipated flood risk.
  • Structural Analysis: Our team utilized various methods, to assess the structural integrity of the dam and to evaluate the internal stresses and stability under usual, unusual, and extreme loading combinations.
  • Seepage & Stability Analysis: Seepage through an earthen dam generally correlates with the reservoir water level of the dam. A careful analysis helps to detect any abnormal seepage issues and associated consequences.
  • Dam Break Analysis: This type of analysis is used to estimate the potential hazards associated with a failure of the dam structure and features.

The geotechnical investigation for the Lower Cragston Dam Engineering Assessment involved performing soil borings and rock coring within the dam embankment, for which Princeton Hydro developed a Drilling Program Plan (DPP) to ensure the activities were performed successfully and safely. The DPP, which also required our team to have a comprehensive understanding of bedrock and surficial geologic formations in the area, was ultimately approved by the USACE Dam Safety Officer and successfully executed in the field. The collected samples were tested at Princeton Hydro’s AASHTO accredited and USACE validated soil laboratory.

Ultimately, the geotechnical investigation and subsequent soil analysis were used to inform the slope stability and seepage analysis. The geotechnical analyses, hydrologic & hydraulic study, structural inspection, bathymetry, and dam break analysis were used to provide USACE and West Point with recommendations for repair options, replacement options, and decommissioning options for the dam.

Engineering Assessments are vital to the longevity of dams and the safety of the communities they protect. By providing detailed analysis, effective repair, and management programs can be designed and implemented efficiently. This helps to ensure dam systems are providing the level of protection they were designed to deliver.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of dozens of small and large dams. Our Geoscience and Water Resources Engineering teams perform dam inspections and conduct dam feasibility studies throughout the Northeast. For more info, visit: bit.ly/PHEngineering.

After 100 Years, Fish Passage is Restored at Critical Migratory Fish Spawning Grounds in NJ

Photo by the American Littoral SocietyFor over 100 years, the Old Mill Pond Dam in Spring Lake Heights, New Jersey has blocked critical anadromous fish species from reaching optimal spawning habitat. Today, we are thrilled to announce that, thanks to a fish ladder installed by the American Littoral Society (ALS), migratory fish can now scale the dam and access upstream spawning grounds.

The 60-foot-long fish ladder is a device that allows a channel of water to flow through it and is engineered to create both the proper water depth and velocity for fish to navigate through. In this case, it will enable fish to scale the 10-foot-high dam and go deeper into Wreck Pond Brook.

This video from ALS provides an up-close look at the Alaska-Steeppass Fish Ladder and more details about the project:

Re-opening river passage for migratory species improves not only the health of Wreck Pond Brook and its watershed, but it also benefits the overall ecosystem of the Atlantic shoreline and its coastal rivers. It also supports important recreational and commercial species, such as cod, haddock, and striped bass, which leads to a healthier economy.

For over a century, the dam blocked anadromous fish like Alewife and Blueback river herring, from entering the Wreck Pond Brook Watershed. These fish spend most of their lives in the ocean but need freshwater in order to spawn. The Old Mill Pond Dam, an impassable obstruction for these migrating fish, was identified as a key contributor to the decline of Atlantic coast river herring populations. Subsequently, river herring were classified as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Species of Special Concern and identified as requiring Concentrated Conservation Actions.

Design rendering provided by the American Littoral SocietyThe fish ladder, which was funded through the US Fish and Wildlife Service and implemented by ALS along with a variety of project partners, including Princeton Hydro, is one more major step in the ongoing effort to restore critical migratory fish spawning grounds, support a vibrant food web to the area, and rehabilitate Wreck Pond and its watershed.

According to the ALS, “Now, instead of Old Mill Dam acting as the furthest migration destination for Alewife and Blueback river herring, these fish have the ability to navigate up the dam through the fish ladder and utilize roughly an additional mile of optimal spawning habitat. The ALS will add the Old Mill Dam fish ladder and newly accessible spawning habitat into its ongoing river herring monitoring surveys.”

American Littoral Society promotes the study and conservation of marine life and habitat, protects the coast from harm, and empowers others to do the same. Learn more and get involved: littoralsociety.org.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen solutions for fish passage including the installation of technical and nature-like fishways and the removal of dozens of small and large dams throughout the Northeast. To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.

Images provided by the American Littoral Society. 

Photo by the American Littoral Society

Restoring Ballinger Lake Dam in Medford Lakes, NJ

Medford Lakes is a borough in Burlington County, New Jersey that consists of 22 lakes, and more than 10% of the homes there are log cabins. Located just 25 miles east of Philadelphia, within the New Jersey Pinelands Commission Management Area, the Borough is overseen by the Medford Lakes Colony (MLC), a homeowners association that manages social events and recreation activities for the community and also manages its “Lake Restoration Fund.” All homeowners in the community contribute to the Fund, which is used to manage and monitor lake water quality and maintain water control structures like dams and culverts.

Medford Lakes and its surrounding neighborhoods contain approximately 60 dams. The MLC retained Princeton Hydro to provide various engineering services for multiple dam structures throughout the Borough, including periodic visual inspections, dam breach and inundation analysis, and maintenance and repair work.

Ballinger Lake, located at the intersection of Lenape Trail and Stokes Road, contains a dam that is registered as a Class I – High Hazard Dam with NJDEP Division of Dam Safety. Immediately downstream from the dam is Main Street Medford Lakes, a congested portion of the Medford Lakes Borough.

The dam, originally constructed in the 1920s, is an earthen embankment dam with a clay core. Between 2000 – 2001, a reconstruction project took place that included the creation of both a primary and auxiliary spillway and a concrete culvert. The primary spillway consists of a concrete drop box and culvert that passes through the embankment. The auxiliary spillway, armored with articulated concrete block, is a low point on the embankment along Stokes Road.

In 2008, the Ballinger Lake Dam was inspected by Princeton Hydro and the NJDEP, Division of Dam Safety. The results of these inspections revealed considerable seepage at one of the concrete joints within the concrete culvert, a non-compliant trash rack assembly, a distressed gate valve assembly, and unstable downstream conditions.

Under Princeton Hydro’s direction, the lake was lowered to reduce the hydraulic load on the dam and to facilitate the required remediation and repairs. Princeton Hydro provided full turn-key engineering services that encompassed the development of the engineering documents and plans and preparation of all the permitting requirements (NJDEP Dam Safety, Pinelands Commission Certificate of Filing (CoF), NJDEP Dam Safety Emergency Permit, Burlington County Soil Conservation Erosion and Sediment Control, and NPDES permits). Our team also prepared the contractor bid specifications and provided construction oversight and management throughout the course of the repairs.

Throughout this process, Princeton Hydro completed multiple studies to characterize the hydraulic, hydrologic, structural, stability, geotechnical, and groundwater conditions at the dam under pre and post-repair conditions. The team eliminated the leakage and brought the dam back into compliance.  In 2019, MLC contracted Princeton Hydro to perform additional maintenance and improvements to the Ballinger Lake Dam spillway, outfall, and sluice gate.

The scope of work for the 2019 engineering and construction project included the following:

  • Replacement of the failed sluice gate structure
  • Installation of a baffled culvert extension on the downstream side of the existing culvert
  • Regrading of the downstream embankment to a shallower, uniform 3H:1V slope
  • Regrading of the levee crest to a uniform elevation
  • Riprap armament of the downstream channel
  • Various repairs to joints and spalls within the existing concrete dropbox and culvert structures.

The photo above, taken on September 23, 2019 by Princeton Hydro, shows a view of the lowered lake level and pumping intake hose.

Construction began on September 19, 2019 with the lowering of Ballinger Lake to facilitate the work within the existing dropbox structure. The lake lowering process was performed by a 6-inch centrifugal pump, which discharged water into the downstream channel. The photo above, taken on September 23, 2019, shows a view of the lowered lake level and pumping intake hose. After the lake was lowered below the dropbox crest, all of the concrete was power washed and work began to waterproof and repair all of the joints within the culvert.

The above photo, taken on October 17, 2019 by Princeton Hydro, shows the riprap being removed from the stream bed prior to pouring the flowable fill concrete mud mat.

In October, the team began removing portions of the existing stream bed riprap in preparation for pouring a flowable fill-based mud mat to level the foundation of the culvert extension. The area was dewatered with a submersible pump, with the discharge filtered through a sediment bag and directed back into the downstream channel at a point upstream of the installed turbidity barrier. The above photo, taken on October 17, 2019, shows the riprap being removed from the streambed prior to pouring the flowable fill concrete mud mat.

The above photo taken by Princeton Hydro shows the grate being prepared for the installation of the sluice gate valve operating mechanism.

The installation of the sluice gate valve support structure began in November 2019. Princeton Hydro oversaw the process to ensure the installation was being completed according to the design drawings and NJDEP Dam Safety regulations. The above photo taken by Princeton Hydro shows the grate being prepared for the installation of the sluice gate valve operating mechanism.

Photo taken on December 5, 2019 by Princeton Hydro showing the soil erosion mat being installed.

In December 2019, the team completed a topsoil application, seeding, and soil erosion matting installation to all disturbed areas of the site. All areas disturbed by construction activities (approximately 6,400 square feet) were graded to pre-construction conditions. The topsoil was applied to these areas and hand-raked to re-establish the original grades. The area was then seeded with perennial ryegrass, fertilized, and covered with a soil erosion mat. The above photo, taken on December 5, 2019, shows the soil mat being installed.

Following the final site inspection performed by Princeton Hydro in April 2020, we completed the Ballinger Lake Dam Spillway & Sluice Gate Improvements Closeout Report and presented it to MLC. The report confirmed that the site was considered stabilized in accordance with the approved project plans, the Standards for Soil Erosion and Sediment Control in New Jersey, and all NJDEP Bureau of Dam Safety requirements.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of dozens of small and large dams in the Northeast. Click below to read about an emergency repair we completed on the Lake Wauwauskashe Dam. A concerning blockage developed in Lake Wauwauskashe Dam’s spillway and water was backing up at the upstream outlet structure causing a number of issues and potential hazards. Medford Lakes Colony, Princeton Hydro, and other project partners employed innovative solutions that lead to a successful emergency repair.

Creative, Timely Solutions Lead to Successful Dam Repair in Medford Lakes

To learn more about our dam and barrier engineering services, visit bit.ly/DamBarrier.

 

Dam Safety Recommendations for Tropical Storm Isaias

Tropical Storm Isaias Forecast. Source: NOAA

We, at Princeton Hydro, care for the health, safety, and well-being of our clients. We are tracking Tropical Storm Isaias closely as it heads up the East Coast, and the most recent precipitation forecast by NOAA is calling for a significant amount of rainfall in the NJ, PA, MD, NY region. Please be advised that the predicted precipitation could potentially pose a risk to your dam, pond, basin, or other structures.

For our clients who own and/or operate dams, levees, and other flood management structures, please take the following precautions, as adopted from a statement issued today by NJDEP Division of Dam Safety and Flood Engineering (see below), seriously:

  • For high/significant hazard dams, check your Emergency Action Plan to ensure that all contacts for emergency notification and emergency resources (engineers, contractors, supplies, etc.) are up to date.
  • Please refresh yourself regarding the dam owner’s responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
  • Please monitor your dam before, during, and after the storm event and report any concerns to your state Dam Safety office.
  • Prior to the storm, please take precautions to ensure that all spillways are clear of debris and that floating objects (boats, floating docks, etc.) which could block a spillway during high flow events are secured, where possible.
  • If you discover that a potential emergency condition exists at the dam, you should immediately contact your state Dam Safety office and the state emergency hotline. You must also contact your engineer, as well as implement your emergency action plan.
  • If your dam has any known vulnerabilities that you wish to discuss in advance of the storm, we recommend that you first contact your engineer. No modifications should be made to the dam without approval from your state Dam Safety office.

If you are a Princeton Hydro client and we provide inspection services to your dam, please reach President Geoffrey Goll, P.E. directly if you have any issues and/or concerns at 908-237-5660 ext. 103 or ggoll@princetonhydro.com. Even if it is after hours and you are concerned about the condition of your dam during this storm event, please do call Geoff directly. Safety is our priority and will do our best to assist you immediately.


State Dam Safety & Emergency Hotline Phone Numbers:

New Jersey:

  • NJDEP Division of Dam Safety and Flood Engineering: 609-984-0859
  • NJDEP Emergency Hotline 1-877-WARNDEP (1-877-927-6337)

New York:

  • NYSDEC, Division of Water, Bureau of Flood Protection and Dam Safety: 518-402-8185

Pennsylvania:

  • PADEP, Bureau of Waterways Engineering and Wetlands, Division of Dam Safety: 717-787-3411
  • PADEP Emergency Hotline: 1-800-541-2050

Maryland:

  • MDE, Water and Science Administration, Dam Safety Division: 410-537-3538
  • MDE’s Emergency Response Division: (866) 633-4686

Connecticut:

  • CT DEEP, Dam Safety Regulatory Program: 860-424-3706
  • DEEP’s Emergency Response Unit: 866-DEP-SPIL (866-337-7745) or 860-424-3338

***IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM NJDEP***

DAM SAFETY PRECAUTIONS DURING TROPICAL STORM ISAIAS
POSTED: AUGUST 3,  2020 at 9:30 AM

 

This message is from the NJDEP, Division of Dam Safety & Flood Engineering. Based on weather forecasts, it has been determined that the potential for a significant rainfall event exists in the area of your dam. At this time, we are reminding high/significant hazard dam owners to check your Emergency Action Plan to ensure that all contacts for emergency notification and emergency resources (engineers, contractors, supplies, etc.) are up to date. Please also take a moment to refresh yourself regarding the dam owner’s responsibilities in the event of an emergency.

 

Please monitor your dam before, during, and after the storm event and report any concerns to this office. Prior to the storm, please take precautions to ensure that all spillways are clear of debris and that floating objects (boats, floating docks, etc.) which could block a spillway during high flow events are secured, where possible. If you discover that a potential emergency condition exists at the dam, you should immediately contact this office and our 24-Hour DEP Hotline at 1-877-WARNDEP (1-877-927-6337). You must also contact your engineer, as well as implement your emergency action plan.

 

If your dam has any known vulnerabilities that you wish to discuss in advance of the storm, we recommend that you first contact your engineer. You may also contact our office at the number below. No modifications should be made to the dam without approval from this office.

 

Please also be advised that the Division of Dam Safety and Flood Engineering does NOT recommend or require the lowering of impoundments prior to, during, or immediately following a storm event unless the integrity of the dam is in question. If a dam owner chooses to lower an impoundment for any reason, we encourage them to coordinate with local and county emergency management officials to ensure that any increased flow as a result of the lowering does not create flooding conditions downstream of the dam. The dam owner must also coordinate with the Division of Freshwater Fisheries (908-236-2118). A lake lowering permit (issued by Division of Freshwater Fisheries) is usually required prior to lowering.

 

Division of Dam Safety & Flood Engineering
NJ Department of Environmental Protection
609-984-0859

 

Click here for more information about Tropical Storm Isaias, visit NOAA’s National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center.

Feasibility Study Identifies Key Opportunities for Hudson River Habitat Restoration

Hudson River Bear Mountain Bridge (Photo from Wikipedia)

The Hudson River originates at the Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondack Mountains at an elevation of 4,322 feet above sea level. The river then flows southward 315 miles to New York City and empties into the New York Harbor leading to the Atlantic Ocean. The Hudson River Valley lies almost entirely within the state of New York, except for its last 22 miles, where it serves as the boundary between New York and New Jersey.

Hudson River Basin (Image by USACE)Approximately 153 miles of the Hudson River, between the Troy Dam to the Atlantic Ocean, is an estuary. An estuary is defined by the USEPA as “a partially enclosed, coastal water body where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuaries, and their surrounding lands, are places of transition from land to sea. Although influenced by the tides, they are protected from the full force of ocean waves, winds and storms by landforms such as barrier islands or peninsulas.”

The Hudson River’s estuary encompasses regionally significant habitat for anadromous fish and globally rare tidal freshwater wetland communities and plants, and also supports significant wildlife concentrations. As a whole, the Hudson River provides a unique ecosystem with highly diverse habitats for approximately 85% of New York State’s fish and wildlife species, including over 200 fish species that rely on the Hudson River for spawning, nursery, and forage habitat.

The Hudson is an integral part of New York’s identity and plays a vital role in the lives of the people throughout the area. Long valued as a transportation corridor for the region’s agricultural and industrial goods, and heavily used by the recreation and tourism industries, the Hudson plays a major role in the local economy. It also provides drinking water for more than 100,000 people.

At the end of the American Revolution, the population in the Hudson River Valley began to grow. The introduction of railroad travel in 1851 further accelerated development in the area. Industrial buildings were erected along the river, such as brick and cement manufacturing, which was followed by residential building. Along with the aforementioned development, came the construction of approximately 1,600 dams and thousands of culverts throughout the Hudson River.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), these human activities have significantly degraded the integrity of the Hudson River ecosystem and cumulatively changed the morphology and hydrology of the river. Over time, these changes have resulted in large-scale losses of critical shallow water and intertidal wetland habitats, and fragmented and disconnected habitats for migratory and other species. Most of this loss and impact has occurred in the upper third portion of the estuary.

As part of the effort to restore the vital river ecosystem, the USACE New York District launched a Hudson River Habitat Restoration Feasibility Study, which helps to establish and evaluate baseline conditions, develop restoration goals and objectives, and identify key restoration opportunities. Princeton Hydro participated in data collection and analysis, conceptual restoration designs, and preparation of the USACE Environmental Assessment for the Hudson River Habitat Restoration Ecosystem Restoration Draft Integrated Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment.

Basic map depicting project sites (Created by Princeton Hydro)The study area includes the Hudson River Valley from the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge downstream to the Troy Lock and Dam upstream. The primary restoration objectives include restoring a mosaic of interconnected, large river habitats and restoring lost connectivity between the Hudson River and adjacent ecosystems.

A total of six sites were evaluated using topographic surveys, installation and monitoring of tide gauges, evaluation of dam and fish barrier infrastructure, and field data collection and analysis to support Evaluation of Planned Wetlands (EPW) and Habitat Suitability Indices (HSI) functional assessment models. Literature reviews were also completed for geotechnical, hazardous toxicity radioactive waste, and aquatic organism passage measures.

Multiple alternatives for each of the six sites were created in addition to the preparation of conceptual designs, quantity take-offs, and cost estimates for construction, monitoring and adaptive management, and long-term operation and maintenance activities.

Princeton Hydro also prepared an environmental assessment in accordance with NEPA standards, addressing all six sites along the Hudson River and its tributaries. This assessment served to characterize existing conditions, environmental impacts of the preferred Proposed Action and No Action Alternatives, and regional cumulative environmental impacts. Our final report was highlighted by USACE at the 2019 Planning Community of Practice (PCoP) national workshop at the Kansas City District as an example of a successfully implemented Ecosystem Restoration Planning Center of Expertise (ECO-PCX) project.

USACE’s specific interest in Hudson River restoration stems from the aforementioned dramatic losses of regional ecosystems, the national significance of those ecosystems, and the apparent and significant opportunity for measurable improvement to the degraded ecological resources in the river basin.

The feasibility study is among the first of several critical steps in restoring the Hudson River’s ecosystem function and dynamic processes, and reestablishing the attributes of a natural, functioning, and self-regulated river system. Stay tuned for more updates on the Hudson River restoration efforts.

Laura Wildman Awarded for “Bringing the Presumpscot River Back to Life”

Photo provided by the Friends of the Presumpscot River

The Friends of the Presumpscot River (The Friends) Board of Trustees awarded Laura Wildman, P.E., Princeton Hydro’s New England Regional Office Director and Water Resources and Fisheries Engineer, with its “Chief Polin Award.” The award recognizes Laura for her accomplishments and efforts in bringing life back to the Presumpscot River and rivers across the nation. The award was presented at The Friends’ Three Sisters Harvest Dinner & Annual Celebration.

The Chief Polin Award recognizes those who are making significant efforts to restore fish passage, improve water quality and bring back the natural character of the Presumpscot river.During her acceptance speech, Laura thanked The Friends for its continued dedication to restoring fish passage and revitalizing the river. “I am so proud to be part of the ‘river warriors’ team,” Laura said. “Our collective efforts to protect and restore the river have resulted in invaluable benefits to fish, aquatic organisms, wildlife, and the surrounding communities.”

The award is named after local Abanaki tribe leader Chief Polin, who led the first documented dam protest in New England during the mid-1700s, advocating for fish passage, which had been compromised by the first dams built along the river. The award recognizes those who are making significant efforts to restore fish passage, improve water quality, and bring back the natural character of the Presumpscot River. Sean Mahoney from the Conservation Law Foundation also received the Chief Polin Award during the Annual Celebration.

Map provided by The Friends of the Presumpscot RiverLocated in Cumberland County, Maine, the Presumpscot is a 25.8-mile-long river and the largest freshwater input into Casco Bay. The river has long been recognized for its vast quantity of fish. According to The Friends, when Europeans first arrived, they reported that “the entire surface of the river, for a foot deep, was all fish.”

In the 1730s, however, the construction of dams halted the passage of fish up the river. As more dams sprung up in the following centuries, the ecological vitality of the river steadily declined.

For more than 250 years, people have advocated for the unobstructed passage of fish up the Presumpscot River. Over the last 50 years, the river has undergone profound transformation due to the enactment of the Clean Water Act, the removal of a few dams, and the installation of fish passages on existing dams. Fish passage at Cumberland Mills Dam, which was completed in 2013, restored critical habitat to sea run fish such as shad, American eel, and river herring, and allowed them to move upstream again.

Saccarappa Falls dam removal in actionIn July, work began to restore a large reach of the river through Westbrook, Maine. The project involves the removal of two dam spillways from the upper Saccarappa Falls and the construction of a fishway around the lower falls. The project, which was three years in the making, was finally approved to move forward once the City of Westbrook, Sappi Fine Paper, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and the nonprofits, Friends of the Presumpscot River and Conservation Law Foundation, were able to reach a ground breaking settlement. The Saccarappa Falls project is a major step in restoring the river and was a focal point of the Three Sisters Harvest Dinner, celebrating decades of effort on the parts of the Friends of the Presumpscot along with their numerous project partners, including Princeton Hydro.

About the Friends of the Presumpscot River: A nonprofit organization founded in 1992, supported primarily by membership dues and small donations. Its mission is to protect and improve the water quality, indigenous fisheries, recreational opportunities and natural character of the Presumpscot River.
Learn more: presumpscotriver.org

About Princeton Hydro: Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the removal of dozens of small and large dams along the East Coast. To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.

Part Two: Damned If You Do, Dammed If You Don’t: Making Decisions and Resolving Conflicts on Dam Removal

Credit: FWRA.org

In this two part blog series piece we take a look at addressing and preventing potential conflicts and the key factors involved in dam removal decision-making – to remove or not to remove.

What to Do About Dams

Typically, the decision to remove a dam is made by varying entities, depending on the regulatory oversight of the dam. In most cases, the dam owner itself is the decision-maker, often deciding that the costs of continuing to operate and maintain the dam are more than removing the dam. State dam safety offices can sometimes order a dam to be removed or lowered if there are major safety concerns. State fish and wildlife offices and environmental organizations are also often involved in the decision-making, particularly when the goals of the project include restoration of habitat for migratory and resident aquatic species. If the dam in question is a hydropower facility, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also has the power to order a hydropower dam under their jurisdiction to be removed for both environmental and safety reasons.

Laura Wildman, P.E., dam removal and river restoration expert and Director of Princeton Hydro’s New England Regional Office, says, “Identifying key barriers early on and understanding which of those barriers might have potential solutions versus remain an impediment, is critical to prioritizing limited ecological restoration resources.”

The careful formulation and communication of the benefits for dam removal specific to each project, adequate education of the public, and stakeholder involvement are incredibly important components to dam removal conflict resolution. As is an understanding that not all dams will or should be removed, and that the local community and stakeholders needs/concerns should be fully integrated into the decision-making process.

Key facets of stakeholder involvement, include:

  • Initial Stakeholder Discussions: Gather information and input from all stakeholders involved
  • Field Work & Initial Assessment: Know the project site inside and out, conduct an in-person inspection, and gather all of the initial data needed to have an informed discussion
  • Report Back with Results, without Judgement: Share the current state of the dam with stakeholders & regulators, without implying any solution or recommendation
  • Detailed Analysis, Feasibility & Alternatives Assessment: Collaboratively select alternative options, and include for a discussion of the alternative analysis process in the pre-application regulatory and stakeholder meetings
  • Formal Regulatory Review w/ Public Meetings: Present solution and/or submit engineering design and permit applications to regulators, and host public meetings to inform the community about the timeline and status.  Some public meetings are required as part of the regulatory process, however, it is important to keep the stakeholders involved in the process. So, additional meetings or presentations are recommend for true engagement.
  • Implementation: If the solution is to remove or repair the dam, continue to update the community about the status and timeline of construction. Local residents, elected officials, and nonprofit groups could be your best allies in keeping everyone informed.

It’s crucial to keep stakeholders and general public informed throughout the process via regular social media and traditional media outreach. Successful projects are based on a transparent process that integrates the local community.  It is the local community that then becomes the environmental stewards of the restored river system.

Celebrating the start of the Columbia Dam removal with the New Jersey Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, Princeton Hydro, USFWS, NJDEP, the local community, and other stakeholders.

 

Analyzing Dams for Removal

There are few “easy” dam removal decisions. Most dams have both positive and negative impacts. The challenge in making a sound decision about whether or not to remove a dam is to identify all of the costs and benefits of keeping (and eventually repairing or replacing) that particular structure, as well as the costs and benefits of removing it, and balance the findings to determine the best option. It is important to ensure that the full range of costs and benefits are identified.

Working through the many issues involved in deciding to keep or remove a dam can offer surprising conclusions that can lead to a reasoned approach – reducing subjectivity and increasing objectivity. The key issues typically investigated include:

  • Impounded sediment
  • Infrastructure/utility impacts
  • Current use (& economic value of dam)
  • Environmental concerns & benefits
  • Geomorphic equilibrium
  • Public health & safety
  • Flooding & hydrologic impacts
  • Aesthetic & sentimental value
  • Historic/archeological
  • Community concerns
  • Sensitive or invasive species
  • Water rights
  • Cost & funding availability

When making a final decision, it’s important to critically examine all factors to understand the influences on the decision. No matter the final outcome, at least it will be a well-informed process, and the information and understanding gained can help shape future decisions.

Although each dam removal project is unique, we developed a standard process that we follow:

While there is often no definitive answer to a question about whether a particular dam should be removed, there is a right and wrong way to go about making a dam removal decision. A good dam removal/retention decision is one that is based on an assessment of all the facts, collaboration with all stakeholders, and objective criteria.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of dozens of dams throughout the Northeast.  To contact us and learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.

Revisit part-one of this blog series:

Part One: Damned If You Do, Dammed If You Don’t: Making Decisions and Resolving Conflicts on Dam Removal