Friday, August 13, 2010

A Fascinating Learning Opportunity for Us All

In 1968, construction began on the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Wiscasset, Maine. Part of this construction involved building a dam on the Lower Montsweag Brook, creating a mile-long reservoir to serve as a backup freshwater supply. There was much controversy surrounding the project, as the dam created an insurmountable barrier to many fishes that migrate from salt to fresh water for spawning, and flooded out important edge areas along the brook. There were also concerns about contamination from the plant's outflow. Safety issues forced the power plant shut down in 1996, leaving the dam behind.

An interesting new endeavor by the Chewonki Foundation, however, has folks in the region very excited. Chewonki purchased the property in 2008 in a settlement between the state and Maine Yankee's owners, and has been soliciting bids from contractors to remove the structure. But they're not simply coming in, taking the dam away, and leaving it at that. Instead, it's becoming an important community research project.

Volunteers in Wiscasset, including the local school children, have been collecting data from the area. This is part of a long-term monitoring project to see, as Don Hudson (former foundation president) says, "what nature does when the obstacles are removed from the environment." The data on water and soil quality, fish populations, and vegetation will be reported on a website dedicated to the project for all to see.

The project is being lauded by many throughout the region, with the hope that it will serve as a model for other endeavors. At the very least, the project will provide an information base for how nature restores equilibrium to an aquatic area after disturbance. Deconstruction is expected to begin in September of this year and be completed before winter.

For more on the effects of dam construction on the environment and community, click here. For comprehensive research studies on dams in China and the Czech Republic, see study 1 and study 2.

Image copyright Liz Noffsinger

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