Shawsheen River Restoration
Restoring a Free-Flowing River
CER is working with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration and other partners 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 removing two of the three dams in order to improve the environment and fisheries of Northeastern Massachusetts while reducing risks to life and property presented by these aging structures.
The 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.
Like 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.
Center for Ecosystem Restoration is leading a project to restore a free-flowing river ecosystem to the Shawsheen River, currently focusing on the removal of Balmoral and Marland Place Dams. The goals of the project are to restore native migratory fish, restore river ecosystem functions and values, and to reduce risks and hazards to public safety and private property posed by aging, obsolete dams. Our work is funded by the U.S. Department of Interior, Mass. Division of Ecological Restoration, Mass. Environmental Trust and Atria Senior Living with the support of many other partners. We are now completing engineering and permitting for the two dam removals, with the goal of demolishing the two structures in late 2015 and early 2016.
Please visit our project partners page to learn more about who is involved.
Center for Ecosystem Restoration
23 Brown Street, Suite 207
Wickford, RI 02852
Dedicated to the restoration of America's ecosystems and communities.
A Project of Earth Island Institute
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Upstream of Ballarvale Dam
The Ballardvale Dam has created a large millpond that is aesthetically pleasing to the tenants of the adjacent buildings. However, the flood wall is compromised and the dam poses significant flooding risks, should the dam breach.
Click on the images above to expand to full view.