A River Interrupted: The Case Against the Watertown Dam

Watertown Dam from the south side of the Charles River Reservation

Did you know that Weston is one of either fifteen or twenty (depends on who you believe) communities in the Charles River Climate Compact? Yes, you do because the Owl told you about it when the Flood Model was being discussed at the Select Board earlier this month. And you probably also read the very exciting summary (fine, the Weston Fire Department wrote it and I just re-published it) of a humongous tractor trailer going airborne and then river-borne on Saturday, which is, as far as I know, not good for river dwellers. And now, you get to know about why our former mother ship (that would be Watertown, from which Weston escaped in 1712 or 1713 depending on which calendar you follow) is the focus of a new movement to undam the dammed (no autocorrect, not the “damned”).

What’s going on? Well, if you have spent any time on the wonderful Charles River Reservation (yes, I wrote about that too–I am very very busy), you will be familiar with the Watertown Dam. But are you familiar with why it’s time for that dam to go? Take some time out this week to see why its time is done and then consider getting involved by supporting the Charles River Watershed Association’s mission.

On February 17, the Charles River Watershed Association released A River Interrupted, an exploration of dam removal in the Charles River watershed with a focus on the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Watertown Dam. It tells the story of the Charles River and the Watertown Dam– beginning with a free-flowing river stewarded by the indigenous Massachusett and Nipmuc tribes, and then diving (haha) into the construction of the dam and its stark consequences for migratory fish populations, water quality, ecosystem health, and climate resilience, and concluding with the CRWA vision for the future of a clean, healthy, free-flowing Charles River.

From the CRWA website: “Bringing together interactive maps, historical and current research on Watertown Dam, findings from the final draft of the Watertown Dam Removal Feasibility Study, video, and photography A River Interrupted makes a compelling, comprehensive argument for the immediate removal of Watertown Dam and all subsequent functionless mill dams upstream. A River Interrupted fits within our long-term advocacy efforts to remove aging mill dams to restore fish passage and heal the river ecosystem for the entire eighty miles of the Charles River, starting with Watertown Dam. We are leading a grassroots campaign to change public opinion on dam removal in each of the communities where dams remain in our river through public education, events, press interviews, meetings with state and local officials, and more to change the course of our river and achieve our vision for a free-flowing, restored, climate-resilient Charles for future generations.”

Image credit: wikipedia

A River Interrupted shows many of the reasons why the Watertown Dam needs to go–one of the examples is the rainbow smelt, a tiny silvery fish that usually arrives in the Charles River in March. They used to number in the millions and would migrate as far inland as the Moody Street Dam in Waltham. Their population has greatly decreased from the 1800s. More than 70% of adult rainbow smelt die from predation by trout, bluefish, striped bass, and birds–and their spawning ground is now restricted to the first ten miles of the Charles River. Removing the dam would directly affect their population strength.

The Owl is fascinated by the idea of dam removal. It is a question that comes up in Weston as well as the Weston Forest & Trail Association owns property that has an aging dam on it–no, it’s not a lot of water so no one is in danger of being swept away. But would the wetlands be better off without it? Probably.

And there you have it, Weston. Things to ponder on Monday, February 28. Outside of Home Range…and yet totally in it, too.

You can read more in The Watertown News article written in October 2021. Support local media!

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