Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dam removal done; planting underway

October, 2013 - The Whittenton Dam is gone, and SumCo restored the channel through the dam site.  The SumCo crews are nearly done with planting the new floodplain.  The plant list includes swamp white oak, red maple, silver maple, river birch, American elm, sycamore, Atlantic white cedar, sensitive fern, and hayscented fern, among others.  Below are before and after comparisons, photos of the plants, the new floodplain, and the completed channel work.

Looking downstream at Whittenton Dam, 2010
Same view, 2013.  Note natural regrowth in the foreground and completed channel restoration through the dam site
Looking downstream across the top of the dam, 2010

Similar view, 2013
Looking upstream from the dam removal site towards the restored floodplain.  
This picture shows some of the historic floodplain that was buried beneath the impoundment.  Note the tree stumps -- these are likely 200 years old.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Channel construction and the return of floodplain vegetation

Now the construction crews are grading the stream banks and building soil burritos, or Fabric Encapsulated Soil lifts.  The lifts give the banks temporary stability while the trees and shrubs put down their roots.  Eventually, the fabric will biodegrade, and the roots will take over.

Meanwhile, plants are slowly returning to the former impoundment.  So far I've seen some native plants such as Golden Hedge Hyssop and some tiny red maple seedlings coming up.  A lot of purple loosestrife was already growing next to the Mill River before the dam was removed; you can see the purple haze in the background of these photos.

The Hopewell Mills site has been slow to green up in some places.  Here's a recent photo from last week of an area that recently sprouted vegetation, including purple loosestrife:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Mill River finds its bed

Yesterday the Mill River was fed into its original bed through the former dam site.  To everyone's excitement, natural riverbed material (gravel, cobbles, sand, a few boulders) still lay beneath the tons of riprap, wood, and concrete that comprised the Whittenton Dam.  Check out a photo from today compared with the same view from 2010.

Here's today (looking downstream):

And here's September 2010:

The work goes quickly.  Here are a few shots of the construction work:
This photo is from a few days ago -- the channel is being constructed.  The photo below is from last week and shows the vast quantity of dam debris that had to be removed.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Removal of Whittenton Mill Dam

The Mill River continues to take back its channel and floodplain upstream of Whittenton Mill. This dam, the last one before the fish ladder at Lake Sabbatia, has come out in just one week, leaving the Reed & Barton dam as the last fish passage impediment on the river. This dam in particular has lived in its infamy as the dam that nearly flooded downtown Taunton during a storm in 2005. The partial failure of this dam set in motion the Mill River Restoration Project as well as many of the recent policy changes we have seen surrounding dams in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

It was with this history in mind that a press conference was held on July 19th to highlight the importance floodplain restoration, dam safety and habitat coming together in one important project. At this press conference, the first scoop was taken off the dam and it was clear from the speakers that our understanding of the hazards posed by dams to both our communities and our river systems has grown in recent years. This photo from The Nature Conservancy shows the first scoop. News coverage from the event includes ABC6 news in Providence, and the Taunton Gazette.

The original dam was constructed of concrete that lay on top of cedar timbers, with a timber spillway structure above. Rock was placed on the dam when it was partially removed in 2005. Now that the rock and timber have been removed, the river is back in its original channel which was revealed quickly after drawdown. Team members from DER and The Nature Conservancy assisted with the relocation of rare Eastern pondmussel from the upper impoundment into Lake Sabbatia.

In the coming weeks, stream bank construction, shaping of the flood plain and planting will be completed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Beauty by the Mill River

Tim Watts found and photographed these trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) just downstream from the Hopewell Mills dam removal site.  Below is a poem from Tim.  According to historical documents, Cohannet was the name given by Native Americans to the first falls on the Mill River, perhaps in the vicinity of Hopewell Mills Dam.

Trout Lilies at Cohannet

I wandered up the stream bank to the tune of tumbling riffles, cardinals calling.
Sights and sounds familiar in a peculiar sort of way, all speaking. 
Speaking from sometime past, tickling  a tick of memory within. 
Mottled leaves at my feet, trout lilies, tender flowers bowing, being, beauty and grace.  
From beneath the canopy of maples I meander into morning sunlight. 
Winding away before me a ribbon of water unfurls, washing across gravel, unrestrained but buy the contour of cobble over bedrock beneath.
What is this place I ask?
I know the name given it by those that prospered from it. 
I know the name given it by those that labored for that prosperity. 
I know, I hear, I see something different now. 
I know she flows free.
I hear whispering in her riffles.
Mother Nature's patient laughter. 
Only time will tell her tale.
Together we shall see.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Watch the Mill River herring in action

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) continues to catch Mill River herring and other resident fish on underwater video camera upstream from the Hopewell Mills Dam Removal site.  The first video shows river herring posing for the camera as they consider whether or not to swim into the monitoring trap.  The second video shows a trout (possibly eastern brook trout?) heading downstream.  Thanks to DMF's Mike Bednarski and Brad Chase for  this great monitoring project, funded by DMF, The Nature Conservancy, and NOAA's Open Rivers Initiative.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Fish are Back!

After 200 years, river herring have been spotted in the Mill River above the Hopewell Mills dam. The Division of Marine Fisheries recently set up a video monitoring station at Reed and Barton, and have been recording a stream of video footage. Many fish use the river, and from what has been reviewed, these fish include yellow perch, chain pickerel, trout and our first river herring!

Because this is a large project that includes removal of three dams and building a fish ladder, it provides a perfect opportunity to study the response of this river system to restoration efforts. Monitoring will continue with each removal, and a monitoring system will be put in place at the fish ladder as well. We will post video when it becomes available, and will continue to provide updates of fish sightings. For now, we are looking forward to seeing the new channel when grass begins to grow.