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

American Shad Discovered Just Miles Upstream of Former Columbia Dam

Struggling fish species returns to spawning grounds for the first time in over a century, just months after dam removal completed

For the first time in over a century, American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) have been discovered upstream from the former Columbia Dam site on the 42-mile long Paulins Kill river, an important tributary to the Delaware River in northwestern New Jersey. Princeton Hydro’s Senior Water Resources Engineer and avid fisherman, Dr. Clay Emerson, PE, CFM, caught an American Shad in the Paulins Kill miles above the previous dam site this past weekend.

A successful collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, Princeton Hydro, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Service, resulted in the removal of the out-of-commission hydroelectric Columbia Dam just months ago. Prior to this removal, American Shad and other migratory fish could not make it past the large dam structure to swim upstream to their important breeding grounds.

“I was thrilled to feel the familiar hit and see the flash of an American Shad as I reeled the fish to shore. Being an avid shad fisherman and enthusiast, I knew the significance of seeing this beautiful fish back in a place where it’s always belonged,” said Clay. “We are thrilled to witness the American Shad return upstream so quickly after the century-old Columbia dam was removed. It’s a testament to the nearly instant benefits that dam removal has on the riverine ecosystem.”

The American shad’s return is an excellent sign of the overall ecological health and diversity of the river. Historically, dams, overfishing, and pollution have caused population decline in many of the major eastern U.S. rivers. American Shad, deemed the “Mid-Atlantic salmon,” are anadromous, which means they spend much of their lives in the ocean but return to rivers and their tributaries to spawn. This long distance swimmer makes it one of the Earth’s great travelers. After spawning upstream in rivers of the East Coast, American Shad migrate to their primary habitat in the Atlantic Ocean up in the Gulf of Maine. Unlike the salmon of the Pacific Ocean, American Shad may return to their spawning grounds multiple times over their lifetime. The species is a key prey species for many large fish and cetaceans like dolphins and whales in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The best indicator of river water quality improving in the Paulins Kill is the appearance of shad miles upstream from the Columbia Dam,” said Dr. Barbara Brummer, New Jersey State Director of The Nature Conservancy. “Today, we celebrate proof that with the 100-year dam impediment removed, they are once again successfully swimming up the river. I could not be happier! This is what teamwork and passion for nature can achieve. It is a great day for conservation in New Jersey, with many more great days for shad in the Paulins Kill to come.”

Princeton Hydro was contracted to investigate, design, and apply for permits for the removal of this dam as requested by American Rivers in partnership with the New Jersey chapter of The Nature Conservancy. The firm investigated, designed, and prepared the necessary permits for the dam removal. The 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.

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

“We are proud to be a part of this collaborative project, which has had an immediate and positive impact to the ecosystem of the Delaware River Watershed and its fishery resources,” said Princeton Hydro’s President Geoffrey Goll, PE. “Re-discovering this Delaware River diadromous icon upstream of the former dam is a very promising sign that the river will once again return to a major migration route and nursery for American Shad. This is why we do what we do!”

A view of the former Columbia Dam towards the end of the dam removal process.

This Columbia Dam Removal 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, Princeton Hydro, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, RiverLogic Solutions, NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Service, and SumCo EcoContracting.

Anglers are reminded, according to New Jersey fishing regulations, except for the Delaware River mainstem it is illegal to fish for shad in any fresh waters of New Jersey.

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.

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

People have been building dams since prerecorded history for a wide variety of economically valuable purposes including water supply, flood control, and hydroelectric power. Back in the 1950s and 60s, the U.S. saw a boom in infrastructure development, and dams were being built with little regard to their impacts on rivers and the environment. By the 1970s, the rapid progression of dam building in the U.S. led researchers to start investigating the ecological impacts of dams. Results from these early studies eventually fueled the start of proactive dam removal activities throughout the U.S.

Despite the proven benefits of dam removal, conflicts are a prevalent part of any dam removal project. Dam removal, like any other social decision-making process, brings up tensions around economics and the distribution of real and perceived gains and losses. In this two part blog series, 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.

Why We Remove Dams

The primary reasons we remove dams are safety, economics, ecology, and regulatory. There has been a growing movement to remove dams where the costs – including environmental, safety, and socio-cultural impacts – outweigh the benefits of the dam or where the dam no longer serves any useful purpose. In some cases, it’s more beneficial economically to remove a dam than to keep it, even if it still produces revenue. Sometimes the estimated cost of inspection, repair, and maintenance can significantly exceed the cost of removal, rendering generated projected revenue insignificant.

Safety reasons are also vital, especially for cases in which dams are aging, yet still holding large amounts of water or impounded sediment. As dams age and decay, they can become public safety hazards, presenting a failure risk and flooding danger. According to American Rivers, “more than 90,000 dams in the country are no longer serving the purpose that they were built to provide decades or centuries ago.” Dam removal has increasingly become the best option for property owners who can no longer afford the rising cost of maintenance and repair work required to maintain these complex structures.

The goal of removal can be multi-faceted, including saving taxpayer money; restoring flows for migrating fish, other aquatic organisms, and wildlife; reinstating the natural sediment and nutrient flow; eliminating safety risks; and restoring opportunities for riverine recreation.

Moosup River

Common Obstacles to Dam Removal

Dam removal efforts are often subjected to a number of different obstacles that can postpone or even halt the process altogether. Reasons for retaining dams often involve: aesthetics and reservoir recreation; water intakes/diversions; hydroelectric; quantity/quality of sediment; funding issues; cultural/historic values of manmade structures; owner buy-in; sensitive species; and community politics.

Of those common restoration obstacles, one of the more frequently encountered challenges is cost and funding. Determining who pays for the removal of a dam is often a complex issue. Sometimes, removal can be financed by the dam owner, local, state, and federal governments, and in some cases agreements are made whereby multiple stakeholders contribute to cover the costs. Funding for dam removal projects can be difficult to obtain because it typically has to come from a variety of sources.

Anecdotally, opposition also stems from fear of change and fear of the unknown. Bruce Babbitt, the United States Secretary of the Interior from 1993 through 2001 and dam removal advocate, said in an article he wrote, titled A River Runs Against It: America’s Evolving View of Dams, “I always wonder what is it about the sound of a sledgehammer on concrete that evokes such a reaction? We routinely demolish buildings that have served their purpose or when there is a better use for the land. Why not dams? For whatever reason, we view dams as akin to the pyramids of Egypt—a permanent part of the landscape, timeless monuments to our civilization and technology.”

Negative public perceptions of dam removal and its consequences can seriously impede removal projects. Although there are many reasons for the resistance to dam removal, it is important that each be understood and addressed in order to find solutions that fulfill both the needs of the environment and the local communities.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this blog series in which we explore strategies for analyzing dams and what goes into deciding if a dam should remain or be removed.

Fish Passage Restored on the Paulins Kill

A view of where the Columbia Lake Dam used to reside. February 19, 2019. Photo courtesy of Casey Schrading, Staff Engineer, Princeton Hydro

On the Paulins Kill, the 100-year old Columbia Lake Dam has almost been completely removed, and fish passage has been restored!  Since the first cut was executed on the main dam in August, many exciting advances have been made towards restoring the Paulins Kill back to its natural state. Check out the video below, courtesy of the New Jersey Nature Conservancy Volunteer Drone Team. 

Piece by piece, the dam was notched out throughout the fall season and is now completely removed with the exception of the dam apron, the horizontal concrete structure that sits downstream of the dam, and the section of the dam that sits below the riverbed. The part of the dam in the riverbed is now being removed all the way down  to three feet under the ground. The full removal is estimated to be complete by mid-March. In mid-August, the first cut was widened to 80 feet, allowing for better management of high flows during storm events, which had been posing a challenge immediately following the first cut.

In late August, the installation of rock vanes at the Brugler Road Bridge began. Rock vanes are engineered, in-stream structures that help to stabilize a channel while enhancing aquatic habitat and movement.

A generic schematic example of cross vanes, this is not the exact engineering plan for this specific project. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

The rock vanes installed at the Brugler Road Bridge site are cross vanes. Cross vanes consist of a set of boulders angled upstream on a river, with another section of smaller rocks placed upstream. The taller sections of the cross vanes deflect the streamflow away from the banks, decreasing scouring effects. Instead, the flow travels over the rock walls and concentrates down the center of the channel, creating a deep and elongated pool in the middle of the stream.  

Velocities between the notches in the rock vanes were evaluated using a velocity meter in accordance with the design specifications originally proposed. Based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fish passage design criteria, velocities in the notches could not be greater than 8.25 feet per second. All of the velocity measurements in this rock vane were below the maximum thresholds, ensuring no blockage of fish passage is made through the vanes.

Since the removal of the dam began, vegetative growth from the natural seedbed of the upper impoundment has been observed (see photo below).

In October, scour protection installation commenced at the Warrington Road Bridge site. After the team conducted geotechnical test pits, they discovered that a concrete scour wall that slopes out to the Paulins Kill was present and deep enough to be able to install rock at the necessary depth. They also found that the existing gabions, caged baskets filled with rock or concrete often used to protect against erosion, were intact and could be left in place. The team installed four (4) feet of riprap under and around the bridge in the riverbed and tied it into the existing grade of the banks.

The original notch in the dam was lowered one foot per day starting in mid-December, reducing water surface elevations down to the apron elevation during the month of January.

To accommodate NJ Fish and Wildlife’s request for animal passage under the I-80 bridges, an area of the previously installed riprap on the northwest abutment wall was flattened out and filled in with river cobble. This path will promote wildlife movement under the bridge as opposed to through the existing tunnel.

Currently, rock vanes are being installed under the I-80 bridges specifically to enhance fish passage. These structures vary slightly from the rock vanes at the Brugler Road Bridge site, as they are designed to slow river flow, helping migrating fish travel upstream and traverse a 5-foot elevation difference in the streambed, much like a fish ladder

These rock vanes are more than halfway completed and are on track to be finished in time for fish populations to make full use of them.  The next steps are to finish the demolition of the dam and the construction of the fish passage rock vanes under the I-80 bridges, plant vegetation throughout the upper impoundment, create a recreational trail through the upper impoundment, and plan for fishing and boating access! Stay tuned for more exciting developments on this incredible project.

Thank you to our project partners: The Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Service.

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.

Levee Inspections Along the Elizabeth River

Ursino Dam on the Elizabeth River in Union County, New Jersey is one of the sites Princeton Hydro inspected for flood control, ensuring the system is providing the level of protection it was designed to deliver.

By Brendon Achey, Princeton Hydro’s Lead Geologist; Soils Laboratory Manager; Project Manager

Located 20 miles southwest of New York City, the City of Elizabeth, New Jersey, is situated along the Elizabeth River. For the city’s 125,000 residents, living along the river has many benefits, but the benefits are not without flood risk. In order to manage the risk associated with potential flooding, a series of levees and floodwalls were installed along the banks of the Elizabeth River. A levee is an embankment that is constructed to prevent overflow from a river. They are a crucial element for protecting cities from disastrous flooding, and as such they require periodic inspections to ensure that all components are functioning properly.

Princeton Hydro was contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District (USACE NYD) to perform rigorous flood control project inspections (i.e., “Periodic Inspections”) for the four levee systems located along the Elizabeth River.  For this project, our team inspected over 17,000 linear feet of levee embankment and 2,500 linear feet of floodwall.

Levee systems are comprised of components which collectively provide flood risk management to a defined area. These components can include levees, structural floodwalls, closure gates, pumping stations, culverts, and interior drainage works. These components are interconnected and collectively ensure the protection of development and/or infrastructure that is situated within a floodplain. Failure of just one critical component within a system could constitute an overall system failure. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, dozens of levees were destroyed, leaving the Louisiana coast with billions of dollars in damage and over one thousand lives lost.

Periodic inspections are necessary in order to ensure a levee system will perform as expected. They are also needed to identify deficiencies in the levee, or areas that need monitoring or immediate repair. Critically important maintenance activities include continuously assessing the integrity of the levee system to identify changes over time, collecting information to help inform decisions about future actions, and providing the public with information about the levees on which they rely.

Levee Inspection Process

Periodic inspections are extremely comprehensive and include three key steps: data collection, field inspection, and development of a final report.

Data Collection

Prior to conducting field inspections, Princeton Hydro’s engineers evaluated the Elizabeth River levee system’s documented design criteria. This evaluation was conducted to assess the ability of each feature and the overall system to function as authorized, and also to identify any potential need to update the system design. Princeton Hydro teamed with HDR to carry out the inspections. A comprehensive review of existing data on operation and maintenance, previous inspections, emergency action plans, and flood fighting records was also performed.

Field Inspection

The Princeton Hydro field inspection team consisted of geotechnical, water resource, mechanical, structural, and electrical engineers. Detailed inspections were performed on each segment of each levee system.  This included the detailed inspection and documentation of over 17,000 linear feet of levee embankment, over 2,500 linear feet of floodwall, four pumping stations, 29 interior drainage structures, five closure gates, and various other encroachments and facilities. Princeton Hydro identified, evaluated, and rated the state of each of these system elements. As part of this field inspection task, Princeton Hydro utilized a state-of-the-art tablet and GIS technology in order to field-locate inspection points and record item ratings. This digital collection of data helps expedite data processing and ensures higher levels of accuracy.

Development of Final Report

Princeton Hydro prepared a Periodic Inspection Report for each of the four levee systems inspected, which included the results of the design document review, methods and results of the field inspection, a summary of areas/items of concern, a preliminary engineering assessment of causes of distress or abnormal conditions, and recommendations for remedial actions to address identified concerns. Final report development included briefing the USACE Levee Safety Officer (LSO) on our inspection findings, assigned ratings, and recommendations.

Levee inspections are vital to the longevity of levee systems and the safety of the communities they protect. By providing the municipalities with detailed inspection reports, effective repair and management programs can be designed and implemented efficiently. This helps to ensure the levee systems are providing the level of protection that they were designed to deliver.

Princeton Hydro’s Geoscience and Water Resource Engineering teams perform levee and dam inspections throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England Regions. For more info, visit: http://bit.ly/PHEngineering

Brendon Achey provides a wide range of technical skills and services for Princeton Hydro. His responsibilities include: project management, preparation and quality control of technical deliverables, geotechnical investigations and analysis, groundwater hydrology, soil sampling plan design and implementation, and site characterization. He is responsible for managing the daily operations of the AASHTO accredited and USACE validated soil testing laboratory. In addition to laboratory testing and analysis, Brendon is responsible for analyzing results in support of geotechnical and stormwater management design evaluations. This may include bearing capacity and settlement analysis of both shallow and deep foundations, retaining wall design, and recommendations for stormwater management practices.

Dam Removal Underway in Watertown, Connecticut

Deconstruction of the Heminway Pond Dam, Watertown, CT on July 16, 2018.

As dams age and decay, they can become public safety hazards, presenting a failure risk and flooding danger. According to American Rivers, “more than 90,000 dams in the country are no longer serving the purpose that they were built to provide decades or centuries ago.” Dam removal has increasingly become the best option for property owners who can no longer afford the rising cost of maintenance and repair work required to maintain these complex structures.

Dams can also cause environmental issues such as blocking the movement of fish and other aquatic species, inundating river habitat, impairing water quality, and altering the flow necessary to sustain river life. Removing nonfunctional, outdated dams can bring a river back to its natural state and significantly increase biodiversity for the surrounding watershed.

A view from the site of the Heminway Pond Dam removal on July 19, 2018.

Currently, work is underway in Watertown, Connecticut to remove the Heminway Pond Dam, which restricts fish passage in Steele Brook, creates a pond with increased water temperatures and high bacterial levels due to high geese populations, and encourages deposition of iron precipitate in the stream channel just downstream of the dam.

Princeton Hydro designed the engineering plans, managed permitting and is now overseeing construction for the removal project. The removal of the Heminway Pond Dam is identified as an integral component in addressing water quality impairment between the dam and Echo Lake Road.

CT DEEP recently published this piece encapsulating the Heminway Pond Dam removal project:

REMOVAL OF HEMINWAY POND DAM ON STEELE BROOK IN WATERTOWN UNDERWAY

Upstream at rock-filled breach in Heminway Pond Dam and shallow, dewatered impoundment on Steele Brook in Watertown (7-18-18)

After almost 15 years of discussion and planning with the Town of Watertown and other partners, removal of Heminway Pond Dam on Steele Brook in Watertown finally got underway in early July.  Though no longer functional, the dam and pond were originally constructed to supply water for a former thread/string mill.  The Town acquired the dam and pond from the Siemon Company, the most recent owner, in 2007 with an eye towards removing the dam, restoring the river and converting the dewatered impoundment area into a passive recreation area, including an extension of the Steele Brook Greenway.  With these goals in mind, the Town approached CT DEEP for help with removal of the dam.

As it turns out, CT DEEP, has also had a strong interest in seeing this dam removed.  It is anticipated that dam removal will improve the hydrology in this section of Steele Brook and eliminate a water quality impairment which manifests itself during hot weather and low flow conditions, as an orange-colored plume of water (due to iron precipitate) immediately downstream of the dam that impacts aquatic life.  Dam removal would also benefit fisheries by restoring stream connectivity and habitat.

Working towards these mutual goals, CT DEEP was able to provide federal CWA 319 nonpoint source grant funding to USDA NRCS to develop a watershed-based plan for Steele Brook to address nonpoint source impairments that includes a dam removal feasibility analysis for Heminway Pond Dam.  Based on the recommendations in this plan, CT DEEP subsequently provided additional 319 grant funds to the Town of Watertown to hire a consultant to develop a dam removal design package, and assist with permitting and preparation.

With the Town of Watertown as a strong and vested partner, CT DEEP is now helping this project over the finish line by providing a combination of 319 and SEP funds to accomplish the actual dam removal and restoration of Steele Brook.  Dayton Construction Company is performing the construction and Princeton Hydro is the consultant overseeing the project on behalf of the Town.  The Northwest Conservation District is also assisting with the project.  It is anticipated that the majority of the work will be completed by this Fall.  U.S. EPA, ACOE and CT DEEP have all played active roles with regard to permitting the project.

 

A view of the first notch during the Heminway Pond Dam removal on July 17, 2018.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of dozens of small and large dams in the Northeast. Click here to read about a recent dam removal project the firm completed on the Moosup River. And, to learn more about our dam and barrier engineering services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.