Potential river restoration sites have unique characteristics that must be considered when planning a project. This is something that the members of the technical team guiding the Ipswich Mills Dam Removal Feasibility Study have been keenly aware of for years. The Ipswich Mills Dam has a number of characteristics including its location at the head of tide, its setting in the middle of downtown Ipswich and the presence of important buildings along its impoundment that set it apart from many of the other dams around the region.
There happens to be, or more accurately used to be, a dam sharing many of these characteristics just a short drive away in Exeter, NH. The Great Dam on the Exeter River was removed in the summer of 2016 as part of a restoration project that was more than a decade in the making. Like the Ipswich Mills Dam, the Great Dam was owned by the town, at the head of tide, prominent in the center of downtown and had a number of buildings adjacent to the impoundment.
On July 26, 2016 a group from the Ipswich Mills Technical Team, including representatives from the Ipswich Conservation Commission, the Department of Public Works, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ipswich River Watershed Association and the NOAA Restoration Center took a field trip to Exeter to see the project in action. We were able to tour the site including the remnants of the Great Dam and the channel being restored through the former impoundment. More importantly, we had a chance to hear from the project manager and the contractors doing the work about both the implementation efforts and the years of planning and public discussion that led to the project.
While the dams are by no means identical, the timing of the construction gave us an excellent opportunity to learn lessons from another project. These lessons will help inform the feasibility study at Ipswich Mills. It was also a beautiful day to be out of the office and on the banks of a river.