Dam Removal in New Jersey: Identifying Barriers to Effective Restoration
By Laura Craig, Associate Director of River Restoration
As dams become obsolete or fall into a state of disrepair, removal is a sensible option for a number of reasons, including improved public safety, enhanced recreational opportunities, and restored ecological benefits. Specifically, dam removal removes a safety liability, improves fishing opportunities, restores unimpeded river access to boaters, increases the availability of riverine habitat, reconnects in-stream habitat for resident and migratory fish, helps to mitigate flood-hazards, leads to improved water quality in formerly impounded reaches, repairs degraded wetlands, and provides a path by which streams and rivers can be removed from the Clean Water Act’s 303(d) list of impaired water bodies. Dam removal is becoming an increasingly popular river restoration approach in the State of New Jersey. In 2011, we saw a record number of dam removals across the state (7) and the number of projects seeking financial and technical assistance from American Rivers continues to grow. Major efforts to restore free-flowing conditions are underway in several rivers, including the Millstone, Musconetcong, and Raritan.
While the benefits of dam removal are numerous, the regulatory framework within the State of New Jersey has created unintended obstacles to the goals and objectives of river restoration. Recently, a consortium of conservation organizations, watershed groups, and other restoration practitioners approached the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to encourage them to address regulatory constraints and modify procedures with the intention of fostering the practice of dam removal in the State of New Jersey. We provided a clear and concise list of recommendations to the NJDEP, based on a review of pertinent background information and existing regulatory language, in a document entitled “Dam Removal in New Jersey: Background, Recommendations, and Practical Aspects”. This document also includes an extensive FAQ about dam removal and identifies guidance documents from other states that may assist regulatory reform and support the development of a formal dam removal program in the State of New Jersey. We are hopeful that our input will guide future conversations about regulatory policy as it relates to dam removal and river restoration.