Kim Scofield has wanted to remove the dam from Indian Brook which runs alongside her property since she bought her house two years ago. Now, thanks to a grant from the Vt. Dept. of Environmental Conservation, she’s one step closer to achieving that goal.
Scofield’s house is 165 years old and was once a sawmill that benefited from the power generated by the dam. Now that the sawmill is no longer in operation, the Mill Pond dam is not only useless, but also dangerous and expensive to keep up.
“I can’t afford to take it out so I just left it alone for a while,” Scofield said.
Still, she has to pay $350 annually to register the dam with the state and hundreds more for insurance premiums.
The dam backs up water and constantly floods Scofield’s yard and basement. The excess sediment caught up in that water causes the streambed to act like quicksand and could be dangerous for anyone wading in the brook.
Last year, Scofield went to the state to figure out how she could remove the dam without paying the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would cost out of her own pocket. The DEC referred her to Brian Fitzgerald with the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
The VNRC, a non-profit committed to protecting Vermont’s natural environment, along with help from the Nature Conservancy, worked to obtain a $35,000 Ecosystem Restoration Grant from the DEC to do the initial study and design plan, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald is a part of the Vermont Dam Task Force with the VNRC, which aims to remove dams from Vermont’s rivers to restore them to their natural state. He said the Mill Pond dam, like most dams in the state, is harming the natural ecosystem of Indian Brook. Dams prevent fish and other organisms from moving upstream, they alter the natural flow of sediments and can weaken the stability of the stream, he said.
Additionally, Fitzgerald said sediments have been impounding behind the Mill Pond dam for years, and recent test results show they contain approximately 14 tons of phosphorous.
“If we don’t remove the dam, the most likely fate is that it will fail over time, and as it does that, the sediment behind it will wash downstream and out into Malletts Bay,” Fitzgerald said.
Phosphorous is a naturally occurring nutrient in Lake Champlain’s ecosystem. However, an abundance of it can cause algal blooms and pose a health risk to swimmers and hurt fish and the natural ecosystem, according to the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
Funded by federal, state and local programs, the LCBP has studied the lake for years and noted that high levels of phosphorous from humans in agriculture, fertilizer and other sources has historically been a major challenge for the lake.
“If you just took out the dam or if the dam failed, all the sediment would wash downstream and have significant, in fact, devastating, ecological impacts, particularly on a brook of that size,” Fitzgerald said. “What you have to do is you have to manage that sediment, and in this case, it has to be dredged out as the dam is removed.”
Todd Menees, river management engineer for the DEC, said that with a dam in place, fine sediments like clays, which nutrients like phosphorous cling to, can flow over top and down into Lake Champlain. Removing the dam will also allow those sediments to be absorbed into the floodplain and prevent algal blooms in the lake.
The preliminary plan at Mill Pond is to remove approximately 25,000 cubic yards of sediment, Fitzgerald said. He added this will lower the streambed and make the section of the brook into something that resembles more of a streambed.
The entire cost of the project will be upwards of $200,000, and Fitzgerald’s team, the VNRC and the Nature Conservancy are currently searching for funding. Fitzgerald said they already received financial assistance from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to complete the design and get all of the permits, which should be done by the end of this year. If they obtain funding, he hopes the project will commence next year.
“There are a lot of small dams around the state that no longer serve a useful purpose and continue to have significant ecological impacts, and this is a great example of one of those dams,” Fitzgerald said. “There are groups like ours around the state who are interested in helping dam owners deal with these old structures.”
Menees added that removing dams from rivers and streams is “a win, win, win” from human, economic and environmental viewpoints.
Scofield said she’s excited for the dam to finally be removed, not only for her benefit, but also to help Indian Brook and the natural environment surrounding it.
“It’s great work that they’re doing,” Scofield said. “It’ll make a happy earth and happy yards.”