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River channel response to dam removals on the lower Penobscot River, Maine, United States

September 2, 2020

Most geomorphology studies of dam removals have focused on sites with appreciable quantities of stored sediments. There is great interest in channel responses to sediment releases because of potential effects on aquatic and riparian habitats and human uses of these areas. Yet, behind many dams in the Northeast U.S. and other regions of the world only minor accumulations of sediment are present because of small impoundments, run‐of‐river dam design and management (inflow ≈ outflow), low watershed sediment yield, and/or channel beds dominated by coarse sediment and/or bedrock. The two lowermost dams on the Penobscot River in Maine, United States, removed in 2012–2013, exemplified those conditions. Great Works and Veazie dams were about 6 and 10 m high, respectively. Pre‐project geophysical surveys showed coarse substrates dominated the reservoir beds and little sediment was stored in either impoundment—functions of reach geology, late Quaternary history, and upstream dams. Repeat cross‐section surveys in each impoundment, as well as the upstream and downstream reaches, were completed from 2009 to 2015 to evaluate channel morphology responses to the removals. Bed‐sediment grain size and turbidity were also measured to characterize changes in bed texture and suspended sediment. Pre‐ and post‐removal survey comparisons confirmed the expectation that bed elevations, channel shapes, and channel positions would not change substantially. Changes were often within, or close to, our estimated random measurement error. Our study shows that large‐scale physical changes are likely to be minimal when impoundments storing relatively little sediment are removed from erosion‐resistant streambeds. Many dams eligible for removal have these characteristics, making these observations an important case study that is largely unrepresented in the dam removal literature.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title River channel response to dam removals on the lower Penobscot River, Maine, United States
DOI 10.1002/rra.3700
Authors Mathias J. Collins, Alice R. Kelley, Pamela J. Lombard
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title River Research and Applications
Series Number
Index ID 70227619
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New England Water Science Center