LISBON FALLS (NEWS CENTER) -- A small dam on the Little River has been removed, opening up 43 miles of habitat for spawning fish. The dam had been in place for nearly one hundred years and despite its' size had been a major road block for Atlantic salmon and other fish species looking to travel up the river.
"It helps improve the health of the entire ecosystem," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Sandra Lary. "By taking out dams or putting in fish ladders, it really improves the health of the watersheds and the health of the communities that are connected to the Gulf of Maine through those rivers."
The dam was built to hold water that was pumped to a near-by mill. The dam had not been used in decades. "It is really important, because in terms of the Lower Androscoggin as a whole, pretty much all of the tributaries are blocked with dams," said John Burrows of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. "You are not going to rebuild the Androscoggin and the Androscoggin salmon population just by opening up this river. The historic run of Atlantic salmon on the Androscoggin was more than 50,000 salmon returning each year. In the past few years, we have had 20 fish or 22 fish, sometimes more, sometimes less, and so you really need to get a lot more habitat opened up in places and get some large amounts of habitat open, but this is certainly a really important first step."
"All of the communities along the river see the potential that this river has for them, and that includes recreation, fishing, things that we have never thought about along the Androscoggin because of its' polluted state," said Neil Ward of the Androscoggin River Alliance. "You look at the downtown areas of Lewiston and Auburn, even Brunswick and Topsham, the buildings didn't face the river and that was because nobody wanted to look at that and realize what the condition of the river was."
The $80,000 to remove the dam was funded by federal and private sources. Environmental groups are already looking at other dams in the area to remove to open up even more habitat for fish.