Maine’s Presumpscot River Runs Free

Removal of the Saccarappa Falls dam will help key fish species recover and create a new whitewater run for paddlers close to Portland

Sean Mahoney | @SeanCLF

In a milestone for the health of the Presumpscot River and Casco Bay, crews removed the dam at Saccarappa Falls over the summer.  For the first time in more than two centuries, the waters of the Presumpscot flowed freely over the falls through the heart of Westbrook.

The removal of the dam structures themselves will not be the end of the work. But witnessing the heavy machinery taking out the concrete, rebar, stone, and cement that comprised the dam’s eastern spillway was a watershed moment (pun intended) – one that will help restore dwindling populations of native fish that play a critical role in the health of Maine’s fisheries.

The work at Saccarappa Falls comes on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the removal of the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River. And it follows news that native fish have returned in record numbers to other Maine rivers, such as the St. Croix and the Penobscot, after fishways were reopened or dams removed.

Restoring Fish Passage Critical to Maine’s River Health and Economy

Restoring access to their historic spawning grounds allows these native fish to once again play a critical role in the health of Maine’s coastal river ecosystems and fisheries. Alewives and river herring are especially important, as they serve as forage fish for cod, salmon, and striped bass and as a baitfish for lobstermen.

The industrialization of our rivers over the last 200-plus years had nearly wiped these species out. As dams blocked access to native habitat, populations of alewives and river herring plummeted from the millions in the 1980s to barely a thousand by the early 2000s.

But – with apologies to W.P.Kinsella and “Field of Dreams” – if you remove it, they will come. We’ve seen this on the St. Croix, the Penobscot, and the Kennebec and look forward to seeing it soon on the Presumpscot.

A Milestone to Be Celebrated, But More Work to Come

Reaching such a milestone as this summer’s dam removal is long hard work. Together with our partners, we have been pushing to free the waters of the Presumpscot for nearly two decades. The Saccarappa Falls site was especially complex, requiring countless hours of legal and scientific work by CLF and Friends of the Presumpscot River to come to an agreement with the dam’s owner for its removal. And we’re not done – other dams on other rivers in Maine must be reviewed and reworked, if not removed altogether.

But when you see the results, there’s nothing more satisfying. And that is worth celebrating!

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