Center for Ecosystem Restoration

Beyond Conservation

Dedicated to the restoration of America's ecosystems and communities.

Contact Us!
Thomas Ardito, Director

Center for Ecosystem Restoration
P.O. Box 476
Saunderstown, R.I. 02874

(401) 575-6109

A project of
Earth Island Institute

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Shawsheen River Restoration

Center for Ecosystem Restoration and partners  are working to restore the ecosystem of the Shawsheen River while enhancing its value to the communities of its watershed.  Three obsolete dams on the river block migratory fish from passage, preventing them from reaching their historic spawning grounds.  We're planning to remove two of the three dams in order to improve the environment and fisheries of Northeastern Massachusetts while reducing risks to life and property prevented by these aging structures.

In 2013, we completed engineering designs to remove Balmoral and Marland Place Dams from the Shawsheen River.  Now, we're working to complete permitting and develop construction funding for the dam removals, with the goal of completing construction in 2016.  In June the project received a boost from the federal government, when the U.S. Dept. of the Interior awarded funding to the Mass. Division of Ecological Restoration for dam removals throughout the Commonwealth.

Merrimack River--Click to EnlargeThe Shawsheen River flows 25 miles through Northeastern Massachusetts, from its headwaters in historic Concord and Lexington to the city of Lawrence, where it enters the Merrimack River.  Along its course it flows through wetlands and forests, past farms and subdivisions, through historic mill villages and bustling downtowns.  The Shawsheen Watershed or drainage basin is nearly 80 square miles in area in 12 Massachusetts cities and towns.  The watershed is home to about 250,000 people, including the airmen and women of Hanscom Air Force Base

The Shawsheen River is an exceptional environmental resource, providing habitat for hundreds of species of fish and wildlife and offering a variety of recreational opportunities--fishing, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife photography. It's a community asset as well--once the centerpiece of a historic planned community, Shawsheen Village, and today the focus of a local initiative to improve downtown Andover.

Ballardvale Dam--Click to EnlargeLike most Northeastern rivers, the Shawsheen was dammed for water power during the 
19th century.  Today, there are three dams on the Shawsheen, all in Andover.  In downstream order, they're Ballardvale Dam, Marland Place Dam (also known as Stevens Street Dam), and Balmoral Dam.  Ballardvale and Marland are 19th century mill dams, each about eight feet high.  Balmoral was built for ornamental purposes in the 1920's. 

The dams degraded the environment of the Shawsheen River in many ways.  Dams harm water quality and habitat for many species of native fish and wildlife which evolved in free-flowing rivers.  Dams create problems for communities as well--exacerbating property flooding, causing potential safety hazards, and creating the need for costly inspection and maintenance.  The Shawsheen dams no longer serve their original purpose, yet they continue to cause environmental impacts on the river ecosystem and to create economic costs for the community. 

Marland Place Dam in WinterThe Merrimack River supports a variety of important migratory fish, including Atlantic salmon, American shad, two species of river herring, sea lamprey and two species of sturgeon.  These fish are anadromous, meaning that they live as adults in salt water, but must travel upstream into fresh water to reproduce.  All of these species enter the lower Shawsheen River, yet they can't pass over the dams to reach their historic spawning grounds.  American eels are also present in the Shawsheen watershed.  They're catadromous fish--meaning that they live in rivers and estuaries as adults, but spawn at sea. Like anadromous fish, they require free passage upstream in order to thrive. 

To restore the Shawsheen River, CER and its partners began by examining the three dams in Andover.  In 2009 and 2010, we completed major engineering and environmental studies which demonstrated the feasibility of removing or modifying the dams--to re-establish a free-flowing river and, with it, a native river ecosystem that provides greater recreational and economic value to the communities of the watershed.  Beyond restoring habitat for fish and wildlife, our goals include improving boating and pedestrian access to the river, and reducing property flooding.  

Balmoral DamWe're committed to working with the communities of the watershed at each step in the restoration process.  We welcome your comments, concerns and ideas.  We hope to hear from neighbors, businesses, community groups and local government--virtually anyone with an interest in this special place and this exceptional river. 

CER and its project partners are committed to communicating with the community regarding the Shawsheen River restoration--sharing project results and listening to citizens' ideas and concerns.  For scheduled events, check out our calendar here.

For further information or to receive meeting notices and project updates, send an email to, or just call us.  We look forward to working with you to restore the Shawsheen River!