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Saco River Dams

New Hampshire Dams

The Saco Lake Dam, barely ten feet in width forms the seven acre impoundment which serves as the river's headwaters.  A short distance downstream is the Wiley Pond Dam which was installed at a natural marsh.  These two small and mostly-insignificant dams have little effect on the Saco's flow and water quality.

Maine Dams

Springs dam natural fishway 001.jpg

The dams along the Maine portion of the river are larger and have significant implications for Saco's flow and water quality.  The various impoundments slow the river's flow which allows the sun to repeatedly warm the waters.  In so doing, the flow's dissolved oxygen content is increasingly reduced from impoundment to impoundment.  Thankfully, a few areas such as Steep Falls and Limington Rapids exist where gradient changes create falls, rapids and riffles where oxygen is reintroduced to the flow.

With the beginning of salmon restoration efforts, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission instituted fish passage requirements into the re-licensing criteria for all Saco River dams.  Throughout the 1989 re-licensing process for the Cataract Hydro power Facility in the cities of Biddeford and Saco (Maine), fish passage negotiations began.  The dams' owner met with fisheries management agencies and our organization to plan the installation of fish passage systems at each of the Saco River dams, and a timeline for their construction.  Fish Passage Agreements were reached in 1994 and 2007 outlining the fish passage infrastructure and the timeline for their installations.  We were party to those agreements and are among the stakeholders. 


Upstream passage systems are currently in place at the five lower-most dams, and agreements are in place for the other four dams farther upriver.  The Cataract East Channel Dam is equipped with a Fish Lift system, while the West Channel Dam is fitted with a 510 ft. Denil type fish ladder.  Elevator fish attraction issues regarding the East channel were resolved in 2019 by repairing the leakage of the spillway and issues on the West channel are scheduled to be improved in 2020 once the water flow levels decrease. 

Two smaller dams included in the Cataract Facility license - the Springs Island and Bradbury Dams are equipped with Fish Locks systems which have a long-standing history of fish passage issues.  The Springs island natural fish passage was completed in 2019.  Improvements to the Bradbury Dam are scheduled for 2020.  

Like the Cataract East Channel Dam, the Skelton Dam is also fitted with a Fish Lift system.  It is actually the largest Fish Lift system in the state of Maine.  Like the Cataract Dams, Skelton's passage system has issues.  Improvements to Skelton Dam are all included in the improvements mentioned above.


The next upstream dam, the Bar Mills Dam was scheduled to have a Denil type fish ladder installed in 2015, (operational in 2016), but recent bridge replacement on Route 4-A has delayed construction.  The dams' owners and the signatories of the Saco River Fish Passage Agreement are currently exploring other types of passage for Bar Mills.  Given this possibility, time extensions maybe be necessary for this and the other upstream dams.

Planning for the next fish passage system is currently underway for the West Buxton Dam (operational by 2020).

Following West Buxton will be passage at the Bonny Eagle Dam (operational by 2022).


Finally, passage will be completed on the Saco with system installation at the Hiram Falls Dam in 2025.

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