Dam Evaluation in New York’s Lake Ontario Basin

Dam Evaluation in New York’s Lake Ontario Basin

By Chris Stephens, New York Rivers United

Human attributes have altered The Great Lakes Basin ecosystem since human settlement, particularly in this most recent century of accelerated human population growth and economic development. Increasing human influences in the Basin have caused flow conditions in many rivers to fluctuate outside their natural range of variability.

Among the human influences affecting the natural flow of rivers include dams built for hydroelectric power, flood control, irrigation, and water supply. These dams significantly alter the riverine habitat and their riparian zones. Today, some of the thousands of dams in New York, especially along the Great Lakes Basin, are aging beyond their expected lifespan, and some are causing a variety of safety, environmental, and other problems.

All dams exact heavy tolls on rivers and river life.Since there are more than 6,000 such dams in New York, virtually all of New York State’s 17 major watersheds are fragmented and their health degraded by these dams. Dam removal can restore a river’s natural values and open recreational and aesthetic opportunities.

New York Rivers United has received funding from the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office to perform an assessment of barrier impacts on rivers. This is to determine which dam removal or upstream fish passage in the U.S. Lake Ontario Basin tributaries would provide sustainable habitat for fish and wildlife. The recommendations from this effort will serve as the primary basis for prioritizing U.S. tributaries for new fish passage improvement projects and will identify priority dams for future actions.

While looking at dams on the Grasse River, a tributary to the St. Lawrence in northern New York, New York Rivers United became involved with two other issues on this tributary: the ongoing PCB contaminants and the review of EPA-ordered alternatives. New York Rivers United is working alongside the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Environment Division to maintain the “free flowing state” as well as its natural beauty.

The second issue is entangled in the first: a new hydro facility has obtained a preliminary permit. It is on a site that was once dammed but has been free-flowing for the last eight years. Fish passage is a major issue with any new dam and because of these issues, the Grasse River has been nominated as one of America’s most endangered rivers in need of protection.

For more information:
New York Rivers United
(315) 339-2097
chris@newyorkriversunited.org

 

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