Kennebec River Dams Must be Removed

Conservation groups cite impact on endangered Atlantic salmon in FERC filing

A dam in Skowhegan, ME on the Kennebec River. Robby Virus via Flikr

A dam in Skowhegan, ME on the Kennebec River. Robby Virus via Flikr

August 16, 2021 (PORTLAND, ME) – In a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), several Maine conservation groups have called for the removal of four dams on the Kennebec River between Waterville and Skowhegan. The Shawmut Dam is currently up for relicensing, and federal officials failed to do a proper environmental review as part of that process. The dams threaten to wipe out endangered Atlantic salmon.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Maine Rivers, Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), and the Kennebec Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited (KVTU) filed the comments this weekend.

“Recovery of endangered Atlantic salmon depends on the ability of the species to migrate safely to and from the ocean to the large areas of high-quality spawning and rearing habitat located above the Shawmut Dam, in the upper Kennebec River watershed,” said John R.J. Burrows, Executive Director of U.S. Operations for the ASF.  “FERC’s draft environment assessment completely misses the mark.”

“Federal officials are threatening to wipe out the progress Maine has made restoring endangered Atlantic salmon,” said Sean Mahoney, Executive Vice President and Director of CLF Maine. “The state has found innovative solutions that both protect critical species and allow people to benefit from the river. FERC needs to start from scratch and admit that the only path forward is to remove these dams.”

“In its draft EA, FERC completely ignored the fisheries resources that the Federal Power Act and the Endangered Species Act require it to protect,” said Nick Bennett, NRCM Staff Scientist. “FERC’s willingness to accept Brookfield’s flawed proposal to build fishways at multiple dams is a recipe for failure and would doom the lower Kennebec to the same fate as other great rivers to our south, like the Connecticut River and the Merrimack River, where Atlantic salmon have vanished.”

“Research conducted by Maine scientists does not support the unrealistic conclusions put forth in FERC’s draft EA,” said Landis Hudson, Executive Director of Maine Rivers. “FERC needs to acknowledge that the Kennebec is as an integral part of the Gulf of Maine, and use the best available science to support decision-making and management. So far that has been lacking.”

“FERC’s proposed license for the Shawmut Dam ignores the recommendations of the state and federal resource agencies and accepts Brookfield’s empty promises at face value, promises that will only result in more of the same,” said Jeff Reardon of KVTU. “The Edwards Dam was removed in 1999, revitalizing the lower Kennebec. It’s time for the owners of the next four dams to allow restoration to continue.”

The draft FERC assessment fails to consider the demonstrated inadequacies of artificial fish passage technologies and the bleak outlook for the future of endangered Atlantic salmon if the four Kennebec dams blocking access to the Sandy River are not removed. The groups are calling for a more detailed environmental impact statement that would make clear that removal of Shawmut and the three other dams owned and operated by Brookfield Renewable between Waterville and Skowhegan is the best course of action. 

Experts are available for further comment.