Monday, July 30, 2018

Removing the Quarry Dam, West Branch Ausable

Monitoring teamQuarry Dam, on the West Branch Ausable River just outside Lake Placid, has been identified for removal this summer. The removal is being conducted by the Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, in collaboration with others.

The abandoned concrete and timber crib dam, three feet high and about 50 feet long, is creating undesirable impacts on the fish and aquatic life.

The presence of dams or impoundments in a stream or river is known to disrupt the natural structure and function of that waterbody, including changes in the physical, chemical, and biological parameters both upstream and downstream of the barrier. These effects are dependent on the size of the structure, as well as the environmental setting, with impacts ranging from changes in sediment transport and water temperature to barriers to movement for organisms.

Quarry Dam blocks fish passage and the river upstream of the dam is generally broad and shallow with a sandy substrate, characteristic of a filled impoundment – not ideal trout habitat. Restoration of these free-flowing habitats and fish populations often drive dam removals. It is assumed that the removal of Quarry Dam will provide several benefits, including improved fish passage, aquatic habitat, and flow and sediment transport.

Unfortunately, many stream restoration projects lack monitoring data to fully evaluate the success of the project on fish and other aquatic organisms. For example, a survey of over 200 river restoration projects in the US found less than half had identified success criteria related to ecological parameters, although many indicated their projects were successful. The lack of monitoring, especially for smaller dam removals, lessens the impact of the positive outcomes of stream restoration. And not all restoration efforts achieve positive outcomes; several efforts have reported no effect or in some cases a negative effect. Increased monitoring of projects will help better inform us about techniques that work or do not work to achieve the desired physical, chemical, and/or biological improvements.

Quarry Dam during spring high flowsThe monitoring plan for the Quarry Dam removal is designed to assess physical, chemical, and biological parameters upstream and downstream of the dam, both prior to and following removal (ideally for several years). It is anticipated that conditions will be improved for fish passage, providing access to rearing and winter habitat; for flow and sediment transport; more suitable water temperatures during mid-summer; and improved habitat upstream of the dam.

It’s important to document any changes and develop a better understanding of the effects of habitat and population fragmentation, as well as restoration of riverine processes on aquatic organisms in the West Branch Ausable River. One of our key questions we hope to answer is does removal of Quarry Dam increase the availability and use of brook trout refuges during summer?

Monitoring of the Quarry Dam site – both upstream and downstream of the dam – was initiated in June with installation of temperature loggers at several sites. These will remain in the water and record water temperature every hour for the next few months. Last week, biological and habitat monitoring began with assistance from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) Ecology of Adirondack Fishes class, led by Stephanie Johnson; Nicole Pionteck, River Steward with the Ausable River Association; and Maureen Murphy. Sampling included fish and benthic invertebrate collection and measurement of habitat parameters such as wet width, bankfull width, depth, and velocity at transects upstream and downstream of the dam. These data will provide information on conditions prior to dam removal for comparison to similar sampling efforts following dam removal. Not only did we obtain critical data, but students were able to learn field techniques and participate in data collection efforts, as well as develop a better understanding of the collaboration that is necessary on these projects.

The importance of monitoring restoration efforts cannot be overstated. While funding is often cited as the reason for not conducting monitoring, the lack of monitoring weakens the credibility of efforts to achieve positive outcomes, and monitoring costs are typically a small fraction of an overall restoration budget. Without assessing the outcome of restoration projects, we don’t know if our limited funds are being spent on the most effective projects.

Removal of barriers, such as outdated dams, is critical for reconnection of flowing water and organisms; monitoring will help to determine the effectiveness of this reconnection. I appreciate the efforts of the Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited for pursuing this dam removal, understanding the importance of monitoring, and providing funding for this project. Hopefully, this will be an example for future restoration projects.

Photos, from above: Monitoring team (photo courtesy of Rich Redman LCC Trout Unlimited); and Quarry Dam during spring high flows.

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Margaret Murphy is a principal scientist and owner of Integrated Aquatic Sciences, LLC in Lake Placid and adjunct assistant professor at SUNY-ESF.  She has over 25 years experience in fisheries and aquatic ecology focusing on monitoring; physical, chemical, and biological assessment; and restoration of natural aquatic resources in the Adirondacks.  While growing up in Syracuse, she spent her childhood exploring the Adirondacks from her family camp near Old Forge and became a full time resident 5 years ago - fulfilling a life long dream of living and working in the Adirondacks - to work on conserving our aquatic systems and fisheries for future generations.  You can reach Margaret at

17 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for the information. I look forward to learning more about your efforts and results. Very impressed by your science-based approach, and of course your hard work and contributions to our ecosystem!

  2. Boreas says:

    Anyone know why it was built?

    • Margaret Murphy says:

      Everyone I have talked to is unsure why it was built. I would be interested in finding out though!

      • Boreas says:

        Probably seemed like a good idea at the time it was built. It is sad that a stream barrier can exist for so long without an obvious purpose! Thanks TU!

        Anyone know the progress of the large dam that is to be removed on the West Branch just upstream of Ausable Forks (Rome)? I was under the impression it was to be removed, but have heard little over the last year.

        • Paul says:

          It was most likely for logging purposes. Could have been for power at a mill but in the spot it seems unlikely. Probably just to pool logs for a spring run down the river.

          It actually creates a very pretty little fall – even with the breach.

          • Boreas says:

            I would be more inclined to think a mill or water supply. The notch & flume would be a pretty hairy place to run logs.

      • Christopher Helms says:

        Fran betters told me it was a mill of some type, he told me this back in 1995. Next time I’m up in the area I’m going to ask his sister if she knows what it was.

  3. Davis Moquin says:

    Great to hear! Does anyone from TU know of projects and or dates for dam removal or remediation in the Saranac river watershed? That work has seemingly been postponed now for many years unfortunately.

  4. Christopher Helms says:

    I was wondering if anyone could tell me if this was the structure that is approximately 3/10 square mile behind Monument Falls on it Route 86

    • Margaret H. Murphy says:

      Quarry Dam is just downstream from where the river crosses Rt. 86 at River Road, and upstream from Monument Falls.

      • Christopher Helms says:

        Thank you very much Margaret I thought that’s where it is! I took my canoe through it one day about a hundred yards past it my girlfriend and I got high-sided on a rock dead center on the canoe, people on Shore wondering if we needed help but I was able to get my oar against The Rock and pry us off of it fell right back into the water kept going on our trip. Again thank you very much for answering my question

  5. Ethan says:

    Awesome! I wonder how many other out-of-service dams are around….

  6. Ben says:

    Great project! Thank you. It will be exciting to observe the river revert back to a more natural state in the future.

    For the Adirondack Almanack team: The photos in these articles are useless at their current resolution. The pinterest thing does not seem to be working. Is there a way to set this up so the photos can simply be clicked on to blow up to a suitable resolution?


  7. Nick Ustaszewski says:

    Judging from the previous comments I have read concerning the Quarry Dam removal I am going to be one of the first to state my disappointment at hearing the news of the removal. I have been s fishing the West Branch since attending Paul Smiths College in the mid 60’s, still visiting every spring from my home in New Jersey. Since the 60’s I have seen the loss of the old wooden dam on the East Branch in Keene and the two small spillways on the East Branch near Keene Valley and Upper Jay, all from natural disasters, but still losses, and all, in my opinion, to the detriment of the fishing quality. From the article, it seems as though nobody is really sure what effect removal of the Quarry Dam will have, except allowing better fish passage upstream. I’m curious just how important that really is, and what other effects the removal will have, both upstream and downstream. What’s next, construction of a fish ladder at The Flume? What about the dam in Wilmington at Lake Everett? How about the dam at Rome? I might feel a little better about the removal if it were to coincide with some stream improvements, especially upstream of the Quarry Dam. How can you be sure that all of the sand and silt collecting in that area won’t be washing downstream and destroying any current fish habitat? Maybe a partial removal to start, followed by a study of the effects, before total removal. Show me some scientific proof of just how detrimental this dam is and I’ll jump on board. Otherwise, don’t make changes without more than just opinions. I love the Ausable, East and West. Let’s not be too hasty with the changes without more information.

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