Thursday, March 25, 2010

Potential dam removal in Massachussetts, and the flooding consequences

An editorial in the Andover Townsman (Massachussetts): They call them 100-year floods, historically heavy floods that supposedly have only a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year. But the ferocious storms that cause these floods seem to be happening with much greater frequency. Whether that's because of global climate change, increased development, inadequate drainage, too many parking lots, chance - or some combination of all of the above - is a matter for the experts to determine quickly. Because communities like Andover need to know what solutions they can create to lessen future damage, whether the rules around development and wetlands protection are still appropriate, and whether it makes sense to continue to rebuild homes in the areas of town most prone to repeated flooding.

Then, there's the so-called Shawsheen Renaissance project. The project includes the idea of removing three dams along the Shawsheen River and opening it up to the type of pleasure boating that used to be more frequent on the river. The removal of dams is also expected to allow the return of certain type of aquatic life to the area. The three dams in the study are the Ballardvale dam near Andover Street, the Stevens Street dam near the Post Office and Marland Place and the Balmoral Street dam. The Stevens Street dam is owned by Atria Marland Place's parent company and the Balmoral dam is owned by the Balmoral Condo Association, while the Ballardvale dam is owned by two abutting companies. The dams, built during the 19th century era of mills and industry, are over 100 years old and no longer used. The Ballardvale and Stevens Street dams were built to harness water power. The Balmoral is an ornamental dam ordered by mill tycoon William Wood.

At a public meeting about the dam removal project in December 2008, discussion became heated with some residents in attendance concerned the dams' removal would cause flooding to their homes or reduce the river's flow to a trickle. Last year, Thomas Ardito, president of the Center for Ecosystem Restoration that has been studying the idea, said neither scenario would occur if the dams are removed. His engineering firm is expected to spend this year continuing to look at the river's history and working on the permitting and designing of the proposed dam removal. Before any dams are removed, residents are going to need considerable convincing that the science is accurate, and the town's flooding problems won't be exaccerbated. We hope experts can devise an appropriate solution and convincing plan.

Map of the Shawsheen River in Massachussetts

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