The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Loss of Aesthetics Leads Public Concerns on Mousam Dams Issue

Posted by Wells Reserve Contributor | June 6, 2016

Dam on the Mousam RiverFor the past 2 weeks, I've been doing my Kennebunk High School senior project with the Wells Reserve, examining the type and frequency of comments submitted to the Kennebunk Light and Power District (KLPD) regarding the possibility of dam removal on the Mousam River. I also reviewed information  addressing the concerns of commenters, to help people understand the probable effects dam removal would have on the river.

The most common concern, noted in 15% of 232 total comments, was the loss of the river’s aesthetic. This encompasses the fear of a drawdown-like future, bad smells, and more visible mud. Approximately 55% of comments discussed either this, decreased river recreation, harm to the wetlands, or a possible reduction in property values.

Information provided by the KLPD through a contractor's report (Wright-Pierce report), and a researcher at Bates College addressed these primary public concerns, as summarized here.

Changing Aesthetic

As KLPD General Manager Shea said at a public meeting, some of the drawdowns falsely portray where future river levels would be, because they represent an “artificially lowered” river because the flow was cut off. While the average elevation of the water will decrease, flow will vary seasonally like any other natural system. Additionally, the depictions published by Wright-Pierce do not show the river at its highest volume, but during July when flow historically is low, so these depictions are at the lowest possible state for the river.

Recreation

Flow and water depth will vary seasonally. High spring flows will increase water level, allowing for whitewater canoeing and kayaking. During a drawdown, my Kennebunk High gym class was able to canoe in the Mousam. According to the Wright-Pierce report, after two dams were removed from the Penobscot River, more boaters were attracted to the more dynamic river. A similar effect could be seen on the Mousam.

Harm to Wetlands

Some areas of wetland will evolve into upland habitats, but new wetlands will likely be formed as well, according to the Wright-Pierce peport. The natural flow variances can cleanse or “flush” new and remaining wetlands, improving the health of these systems. With this, the abundance of wetland animals could increase, prompting an increase in larger wildlife.

Property Values

Several peer-reviewed studies, brought to the KLPD’s attention by Bates professor Dr. Lynne Lewis, indicate that homes abutting impoundments gain no additional value from the dammed river. These studies also show that with river restoration, property value can increase.

Summary

Overall, I found that KLPD documents addressed most of the concerns raised by commenters. In my 50 hours at the Wells Reserve, I compiled my findings regarding the public’s comments into an 11-page report that addresses most concerns and aims to qualm some of the public’s worries. I hope my project will not only help Kennebunk residents in finding solutions to their concerns, but those in other Maine towns facing similar changes. While most data was taken from the Wright-Pierce report and is very specific to the Mousam River, much of this information is applicable to the rest of Maine.

Resource

Evaluating Public Comments Regarding the Fate of the Dams on the Mousam River

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