By Glynn Wilson –
PATAPSCO VALLEY STATE PARK, Md. — It may not be as monumental a fight as Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite, but the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is in the process of planning the removal of Bloede’s Dam on the Patapsco River in the Avalon Area of Patapsco Valley State Park to allow fish species to migrate and stop human injuries and drownings around the dam.
At least 10 people have drowned below the dam and there have been many undocumented injuries since it was built for hydroelectric power in 1907, according to Nancy Butowski, program manager for the fish passage program in the department’s Fisheries Service Division in Annapolis.
Public comment on the 90 percent design phase has officially ended and plans are moving forward to obtain the necessary permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment to remove the dam and rebuild the section of the sewer system that runs through it. That could be accomplished by October 2015.
Ms Butowski said none of the comments received to date were significant enough to stop the project from moving forward.
“For the most part people understood that it would be better for the river on the whole,” she said. “Obviously there are some people who are not happy with it.”
Some local hikers and bikers expressed concerns that part of the Grist Mill trail would have to be closed for about a year during the work. Others wanted to make sure the historical and cultural significance of the dam was remembered. Then there is the cost of between $7 and $8 million, mostly for redoing the sewer lines which is expected to be completed by the winter of 2016 when dam removal work could begin.
The main reason for getting rid of the dam involves long-term ecological benefits to the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. Anadromous fish, such as shad and herring, spawn in freshwater and migrate to the sea. The presence of dams have kept them from reaching their historic spawning grounds and has contributed to their population decline. Populations of the American eel have also diminished due to dams.
In addition to the healthier populations of native fish species, increasing the diversity of aquatic life, getting rid of the dams also improves recreation on the river, providing for better fishing, canoeing, kayaking and tubing.
While the cost of removal may seem high, it will actually save money in the long-term since there will no longer be a need for maintenance and repair of the dam structure and the ineffective fish ladder built in the early 1990s.
While some members of the public said they liked the appearance of the dam, the department argues that it will create a more scenic and natural setting in its place. A portion of the dam will be preserved on the Howard County side for historical interpretation.
While you can still catch trout in the river due to the department’s restocking program, the fish do not survive for long and cannot successfully spawn and migrate. The department stocks trout for a ‘put and take’ fishery and most of the fish are caught and removed from the system during the open season on trout. Even with the dam removal and improved water quality conditions, the Patapsco is too warm to support natural populations of rainbow and brown trout.
Once this dam removal project is complete, Daniels Dam will be considered for removal. Ms. Butowski said there is no plan to get rid of Liberty Dam, which provides a significant source of drinking water to residents of the Ellicott City area.
While residents, businesses and environmentalists are still fighting over Hetch Hetchy, it looks like the Patapsco River is on its way to being restored to its natural state.
© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.