Penobscot Restoration Reaching Final Stages


Penobscot Restoration Reaching Final Stages with Veazie Dam Removal

By Danielle Walczak
Posted on Oct. 27, 2013, at 9:25 p.m.

Friday marked the first time in 180 years when water from the Penobscot River flowed through a section where the Coffer Dam used to be, behind the now removed Veazie Dam. Volunteers worked on the shores to help save stranded, dewatered mussels.

The removals of the Coffer Dam, Great Works Dam and, most recently, the Veazie Dam have set into motion the restoration of the Penobscot River. The project began in 2009 when baseline assessments commenced and is set to be completed in 2014.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) invested $7.3 million through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to jumpstart the river restoration.

The Veazie Dam removal will help restore about 225 acres of in-stream habitats, 65 acres of streamside habitat and will reestablish the connection and function of 188,000 acres of wetland habitats, according to the Bangor Daily News.

By the spring, 11 species of fish will be able to swim upstream for the first time in 180 years, according to Josh Royte, Maine’s senior conservation planner at the Nature Conservancy.

“Ecologically, there will be this burst of energy,” Royte said, also saying that the health of the river system directly impacts the people living around it.

This is especially true for the Penobscot Nation, whose tribal fishing rights, established in a treaty, have been squandered due to the lack of fish in the river.

Since August — when the first river drawdowns began with the removal of the Veazie Dam — volunteers organized by the Penobscot River Restoration Trust have scoured the coastline looking for three state-threatened species of mussel, moving them to a safe habitat and throwing more than a hundred thousand common mussels back into deeper water, according to Beth Swartz, of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Although the Restoration project includes the refurbishing of many different river animals, species and habitats, with the final drawdown on Sunday, many mussels were dewatered after four feet of the riverbank was exposed, making them a focus in recent times.

Mussels are filter feeders, consuming particles like bacteria, algae and detritus, and are thus important for the river system.

“You can imagine how much water is filtered every day by millions of freshwater mussels in just these few miles of river,” Swartz said. “They help keep the water clean for other aquatic animals as well as for humans.”

Mussels are an important facet in the restoration and diversification of the river ecosystem as well. When River Heron bite down on adult mussels, who attract them with fish-like lures, they release juvenile mussels onto the gills of River Heron. The dam removal will allow the fish to carry mussels upstream and grow in areas of the river where they haven’t been able before.

“That process will be restored. In the long term, it’s a real benefit for mussel population,” Royte said.

Among the millions of mussels along the banks of the Penobscot are three threatened Maine mussel species: Yellow Lampmussel, Tidewater Mucket and Brook Floater.

The Penobscot River Restoration Trust hired a team of biologists from Biodrawversity LLC to save several hundred of these specific species and transport them to a safer location upstream, where some already live.

Most have been recovered using underwater snorkel and SCUBA gear by the biologist team, yet volunteers along the dewatered sections of the river have saved a few hundred of the rare species, according to Swartz.

The true costs and benefits of the entire project are currently unknown, according to Rory Saunders, a fishery biologist at the Restoration Center at NOAA.

Part of the grant funded by NOAA includes a mandate for monitoring the Penobscot’s restoration, much of which has not been done before. “That’s a big part of the reason were doing monitoring. We actually don’t know how long it’s going to take [for the river to return to its natural state].

“A lot of early investments are just now coming to fruition,” Saunders said. With the help of UMaine scientists, he says, their monitoring work is making its way into literature.

“It will inform future management within the river and also be a future model for other restoration projects,” he said.

However, the work is not finished. Cheryl Daigle, community liaison and outreach coordinator for the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, would like to see more people engaged and volunteering. “It builds a sense of community and camaraderie,” she said. “It turns into a fun outing as you’re doing something good.”

UMaine Marine Science graduate and volunteer Ana Rapp thinks it’s an important educational experience for volunteers. “They learn something new, and see the importance of the project and how every little thing helps,” Rapp said.

The number of mussels relocated by volunteers is a small fraction of the mussels lost to water level drop, according to Swartz. However, many mussels will remained watered and, with the added mussels from volunteers, the population after the final drop downs will be enough to populate the new river channel.

“The common species are common because they are very successful at reproducing, so while there may be a big loss to their populations in the short term, we would expect them to recover fairly easily,” Swartz said.

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact Cheryl Daigle at Cheryl@penobscotriver.org.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 27th, 2013, 9:25 pm. You can follow any responses to this article through the RSS feed.