Good News: Big Dam Restores Maine's Biggest River, California Creates Marine Reserves

There’s plenty of dark news to report these days, but here’s some good news:

Biggest Dam Removal Restores Maine’s River

In the biggest dam removal and river restoration project in the US to date, much of Maine’s longest river, the Penobscot, is about to be free once again. 1000 miles will be returned to native fish, such as Atlantic salmon and short-nosed sturgeon, which have been unable to reach their historic spawning grounds because of those dams.

Yesterday, the Great Works Dam starting coming down – a 1000 foot long mass of concrete, timber and cribwork. After that, another will be razed. Fish passage will be improved at four dams that remain.

Penobscot River Restoration Trust bought the dams for $24 million two years ago and is now taking them down for $62 million.

In an unprecedented collaboration, the Penobscot Indian Nation, seven conservation groups, hydropower companies PPL Corporation and Black Bear Hydro, LLC, and state and federal agencies, are working together to restore 11 species of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River, while maintaining energy production.

"People who had been fighting each other for many decades set that aside to focus on the common good,” Laura Rose Day, executive director, told the Boston Globe. "It’s among the nation’s most comprehensive projects, with tribal, national, state, local, and nonprofit groups coming together to totally reconfigure the power production on a river so we can have fish restoration and hydropower.”

Six dams on the river and its tributaries will remain, producing about the same amount of electricity as before – 50 megawatts to supply about 25,000 homes.

Environmental advocates, fishermen, and a host of local, state, and federal officials have long sought to restore the free flow of the Penobscot, the second-largest river in New England.

Until the early 1880s, New England rivers had massive fish runs: 100,000 salmon, 6 million American shad, and some 20 million river herring migrated each year from the ocean to spawn in the rivers. That ended with the damming of rivers, log drives, mill waste, and other pollution that turned them into the equivalent of industrial dumps, says The Boston Globe.

By reconnecting the river to the sea, the Penobscot Project promises large-scale ecological, cultural, recreational and economic benefits throughout New England’s second largest watershed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Recovery Act (Stimulus Bill) provided major funding to remove the Great Works Dam, under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. It also includes funds for scientific monitoring.

California Creates Marine Preserves

In a unanimous vote, California’s Fish and Game Commission voted to establish Marine Protected Areas along California’s north coast, completing the preserve network from Mexico to the Oregon state line.

This is the first science-based marine preserve network in the US to be designed from the ground up, rather than a patchwork of independent protected areas without specific goals and objectives.

Adopted after three years of public input and with broad public support, there are 19 preserves in Northern California waters covering 1,027 square miles. There are 119 marine preserves off the California coast.

15 years ago, overfishing forced all commercial abalone fisheries to close and an array of species were depleted. In 1999 California enacted the Marine Life Protection Act, setting aside safe havens for sea creatures all along its coast.

California has the largest coastal economy in the nation, with 11 million of the state’s 14 million jobs in coastal counties. Ocean-based tourism accounts for 76% of all spending by visitors to California, says the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Research shows that marine protected areas are necessary to bring back healthy stocks of fish – over 90% of large fish, including tuna, swordfish, and sharks, are gone, and the average fish size is down by almost half in the past 20 years off the California coast. Preserves provide more resilient habitat, allowing species to recover and protecting them from the impacts of climate change.

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