Source: Project removes old, disused dams to make healthier waterways – VTDigger

Seen through the window of Patty Smith’s home in East Bethel, James Rogers, left, and Fran Rhynhart, right, watch as Ben Canonica, of Canonica Farm and Forest, makes a buffer to protect the bank of the Second Branch of the White River while preparing to remove the Hyde Dam on Tuesday, Sept. 15. “As kids, this was our playground,” said Rhynhart. “All the East Bethel village kids would swim here.” Photo by James M. Patterson/Valley News

EAST BETHEL — A yellow excavator ambled over the uneven bed of the Second Branch of the White River as it rearranged boulders above the Hyde Dam earlier this month. Within weeks, the dam will be gone, opening 60 miles of waterways for fish passage.

From the 1700s to the 1950s, hydropower ruled and the Hyde Dam in turn gave life to a sawmill, a gristmill, a creamery and a woolen mill that employed over 30 workers in 1860. The current dam replaced an older dam destroyed in what is known as the Great Vermont Flood of 1927.

These days, industry has departed from the Second Branch. A half-acre plot of empty land on the north side of the dam gives no hint of the artifacts of production buried below. The mill that leans on the southern edge of the dam is now a home. Conservation nonprofits and state agencies worked together to remove the dam, part of a statewide effort to remove out-of-use dams to improve rivers for both wildlife and people.

Greg Russ, a watershed restoration coordinator at the White River Partnership who is overseeing the project, estimated that it will cost anywhere between $120,000 and $150,000. He listed many reasons to remove the dam, for both the community and the river. The water behind a dam gets “really, really stagnant,” he said.

“Sediment and nutrients settle out behind the dams. We have (seen) poor water quality downstream of the dams, especially after a rain event,” Russ said. “We think a dam makes a perfect breeding ground for bacteria — really warm, stagnant conditions.”

The White River Partnership’s analysis of data before and immediately after a dam removal shows that “bacteria and nutrient levels drop drastically,” Russ said. The project’s coordinators also hope that the dam’s demise will benefit trout.

Robb Cramer heads Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that contributed over $14,000 to the removal. He is concerned about risks to trout in years to come, especially with warming temperatures.

A priority is “reconnecting our waterways to allow these fish and other related species to cold water during the summer months, especially with global warming,” Cramer said.