A small fix with a big payoff
This small dam, located near the East-West Road in Dummerston, is slated for removal in a few weeks. It was built on a stream that flows into the West River.

A small fix with a big payoff

Advocates say removing unused dams from waterways can improve water quality, fish habitats

DUMMERSTON — A small, abandoned dam in Dummerston is one of five “deadbeat dams” set for removal during the next two months in Vermont.

According to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' Department of Environmental Conservation (dec.vermont.gov/watershed/rivers/streamflow-protection/dam-removal), there are about 1,200 known dams on its Vermont Dam Inventory.

“While several hundred are valued and properly maintained, others are not and are slowly deteriorating. Some have been essentially abandoned. It is these dams - those that no longer serve a useful purpose, impose legal and financial burdens on their owners, create potential safety hazards and cause ecological impacts - that have been the focus of dam removal efforts in Vermont and nationwide,” the agency said.

Ron Rhodes, the North Country river steward for the Connecticut River Conservancy (formerly the Connecticut River Watershed Council), said the Dummerston dam is located near East-West Road on an unnamed brook that flows into the West River.

“It was a private dam, and it was definitely off the beaten path,” Rhodes told The Commons. “It wasn't even on the state's database. We think that someone built it to make a swimming hole.”

Rhodes said the stream is a favorite hangout for brook trout in the summertime, when they are looking for cooler waters to inhabit. Removing the dam and the sediment built up behind it, he said, would improve water quality in the brook and make it more favorable for trout to use for spawning.

This small structure was discovered by former River Steward and avid trout fisherman David Deen.

“It has always been on my radar,” Deen said, “since I drive past it often enough, and when we had the resources to do something about dam removals [in Windham County], it was recruited for removal.”

“Anytime we find a dam that isn't being used, or has outlived its purpose, we like to see them removed,” Rhodes said.

The other dams slated for removal are in West Fairlee, East Hygate, West Windsor, and East Burke. The Dummerston dam is the smallest of the group, and Rhodes said it will be the easiest to remove, with work set to begin in mid-September.

“It's a year-round stream, and the town already has a large culvert in place,” Rhodes said. “[The Conservancy] already has all the state permits. We're just waiting on approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Rhodes said that behind the dam are the remnants of a former logging road that is also impeding water flow in the brook. Most of the sediment behind the dam can also be found here, and he said both will be removed, pending Corps approval.

The removal of the five dams is a project that has been in the works for the past couple of years. The Conservancy has been working with state and federal agencies, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Trout Unlimited, local conservation and planning commissions, the Vermont Dams Task Force, and private funders.

The cost of the removal, which includes pre-removal engineering studies and obtaining the permits for the work, will be shared between the Conservancy, which raised about $200,000 for the dam removal project, and a $199,000 grant received last year from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates