Save The Bay: Take down the Shad Factory dam

BCWA also interested in removal of dam once redundant water supply is secured

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As the Bristol County Water Authority researches the removal of its upper dam on the Kickemuit River, environmentalists hope it will also turn its sights a bit north: To the Shad Factory Reservoir in Rehoboth.

The Shad Factory is a large pond just down a quiet road from the Pine Valley golf course. It has fed into the BCWA system for decades and got its name for its historical distinction as a prime spawning ground for shad and river herring. Today, it is one of the last two somewhat viable shad runs left in the area, along with the Runnins River.

But even though a concrete fish run was built at the reservoir 10 years ago, environmentalists say the reservoir’s large concrete dam is an impediment to that spawning run. And with a recent surge in invasive plant species in the pond, its health has deteriorated over the past several years. Save The Bay and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection are studying the reservoir’s health and believe that removing the dam, or at least part of it, will help restore the water body’s natural balance and help the fish run.

“You would see a return” of natural vegetation and perhaps, the historic fish run, said Save The Bay’s Wenley Ferguson, during a visit to the reservoir late last week. “We would support” the dam’s removal.

BCWA officials are interested in hearing what Massachusetts and Save The Bay learn about the dam’s effect on the Shad Factory, and already appear to be on board with removing the dam. On Monday, BCWA Executive Director Pam Marchand said she agrees with Save The Bay’s take and considers removing the dam not just a good environmental decision, but also good for BCWA ratepayers:

“It’s something we would support, yes,” she said.

But removing the dam, which is owned by the water authority, would be expensive and would take years of study and engineering to pull off. Despite those hurdles, Ms. Marchand said it would still likely be an idea worth considering as the authority’s long-term plan is to abandon the Shad Factory and two other reservoirs as water sources.

Technically, the Shad Factory Reservoir, Kickemuit Reservoir and Anawan Reservor are all established drinking water sources for the BCWA. Though they have not been used in years, they are kept on as official backup sources, as required by law. But when the BCWA completes its plans to build a secondary water supply pipeline to Pawtucket, the need for the three aging reservoirs will be eliminated. Since maintaining aging dams is expensive, BCWA officials are more in favor of removing them and giving up claim to the reservoirs as water sources.

“We certainly don’t want to maintain it” after the BCWA’s new redundant pipeline is built, Ms. Marchand said. “It’s a cost to our customers and if we could find an economical way to disperse it … we would support that.”

One recent afternoon, Ms. Ferguson, a group of college interns and Save The Bay River Keeper Rachel Colobro set out on the reservoir aboard a canoe and a few kayaks. Like they do weekly, they set out in search of Chinese Water Chestnuts, which are invasive plant species that have proliferated in recent years, choking out the reservoir’s native vegetation.

“There’s a lot of it,” Ms. Colobro said, holding up a soaking hunk of weed she’d just pulled from the river’s edge.

Though it’s impossible to say where the weeds came from, she and Ms. Ferguson say getting on top of the problem will be a years-long effort. But that, coupled with the dam’s potential removal, could spell a new day for the Shad Factory, she said.

“It would make a big difference,” she said.

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