Session C3: Balancing Power Production and Fisheries Restoration in the Penobscot River Watershed: Background, Updates, Recent Successes and Difficulties

Abstract: In 1820 the Penobscot (USA) Maine's largest river was first completely dammed, effectively blocking passage of what was likely an annual run of well over 10 million fish including over 100,000 now-Federally Endangered Atlantic salmon. Populations of sea-run fish plummeted to a fraction (thousands to mere hundreds) of historic counts and marine fisheries which foraged on the searun adults and juveniles also declined precipitously. Through an innovative FERC relicensing process, a multiparty agreement was signed in 2004 by the hydropower company, a new NGO, The Penobscot River Restoration Trust (the Trust), as well as signatories from state and federal agencies. This agreement resolved decades of conflict over fisheries and hydropower in this most critical river for Atlantic salmon. Looking at a system of dams rather than one at a time, allowed a solution that increases power generation at six dams while increasing fish passage at five others. It led to the acquisition and decommissioning of three large mainstem dams and removal of the two lowest-most dams in 2012 and 2013. The development of a river-like bypass around an upstream dam is under construction. Once finished, mainstem dam improvements will increased access to over 1,000 miles (1609 km) of habitat upstream, meanwhile energy generation already has increased slightly above pre-project levels. At the same time a coalitions of restoration partners are restoring access to tributaries through dam removals, upgraded culverts at road stream-crossings and developing effective fishways to other tributary waters – especially with ponds for alewife spawning.Early results include e hundreds of thousands of new fish coming upstream and we are at the front of the projected population growth. This presentation summarizes creative problem solving balancing energy production with ecological values and reports on the stunning biological responses to restoration in the first of recovery.
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