Musconetcong dams being removed to restore original flow of the river

Musconetcong dams being removed to restore original flow of the river

Some 20 dams on the Musconetcong — most of them remnants of the state’s industrial past — are targeted for removal to help return the river to its free-flowing state, according to the Musconetcong Watershed Association, which is heading up the demolition projects. Most of the dams were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries by industrialists and farmers along the 44-mile river between Lake Hopatcong and the Delaware River. For half a century, the Seber Grove Dam held back the chilled waters of the Musconetcong River, creating a swimming hole at the western edge of Morris County.

Known as the Sand Bar because of its man-made beach, it was a tranquil place to cool off on the warmest days of summer. “For many a year, it was a popular place to go,” said William Kuster, Hackettstown’s administrator. “The Sand Bar was the place to be in its heyday.” That era lasted some two decades, until the 1970s, when the river became too polluted for swimming and Hackettstown built its own pool complex. Now the 100-foot-long dam is gone, and the former swimming hole with it. The dam dismantling, which began Feb. 11, was completed Monday.

The Gruendyke Dam near Hackettstown, built a century ago for a mill, was razed last year. The Seber Grove Dam was the second to be torn down. Removing the dams is expected to improve water quality, enhance fish migration, eliminate potential flood hazards and allow recreational boaters to travel the length of a river that Congress in 2006 declared to be “wild and scenic.” The dams create picturesque scenes but they also create environmental problems, according to the watershed association. As wetlands, marshes and riverbanks are replaced by pools, the water temperature rises, pollutants become concentrated and oxygen levels decrease. Native plants, fish and bird species lose the natural habitats in which they thrived.

The $40,000 project to remove the Seber Grove Dam and restore the riverbank was partially funded by a $15,000 grant from the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, a private/public initiative to preserve and restore aquatic habitats in the United States, said Beth Styler Barry, director of the watershed association. She said Hackettstown contributed $2,500 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service provided most of the balance. Removing a dam is the first step in restoring the natural environment, the watershed group said.

The Seber Grove Dam had been breached and repaired several times over the past half-century. “These things are nothing but a liability anymore,” Barry said. The beginning of the end for the dams was the flood of 2000, when a freak thunderstorm stalled over Sparta and Jefferson and led to the breaching of several old dams in the area. After the storm, the state Department of Environmental Protection stepped up efforts to make sure the dams were maintained or removed, Barry said. Hackettstown was only too happy to have the watershed group arrange for the Seber Grove Dam’s removal.

“It had fallen into a serious state of disrepair. The town had not done anything to it in the 30 years that I’ve been here,” Kuster said. Now that it is gone, workers will begin restoring the riverbank. Volunteers from Trout Unlimited will lead the work of planting trees and shrubs purchased with the NRCS funding. The watershed group will provide in-kind services — tons of rock to help stabilize the riverbed, banks and silt, and to create habitats. Hackettstown still maintains the Sand Bar area, where there are now recreational courts and fields, and trails leading to the nearby 50-acre Riverfront Park. The town also still owns the six acres in Mount Olive. The old swimming hole may be gone for good, but Kuster says, “The river will be returned to a more natural state.”

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Liz on September 5, 2011 at 4:31 PM

    It’s good to see nature restored? Many of the homes and businesses along the Musconetcong were built after the dams were built. I live downstream of all those dams on the Muskie. Would you like to buy my house after it washes away? Have you seen pictures of Hackettstown after two dams were removed? It sounds good, doesn’t it, to “unleash” and “unfetter” a river. Hmmm, but dams are not underwear. They do something. Often, they slow down the rush and gush of water downstream. For that reason, I think all these agencies should be MUCH more careful about how they yank out the dams!!

    Reply

  2. I don’t think dam removal will help the valley. We have seen how flooded Hackettstown got in Hurricane Irene following dam removal. What makes everyone think that couldn’t happen in Pohat? Houses and businesses were built here after dams were built. What’s to happen to them?

    Reply

  3. Thanks for posting. The ‘sand bar beach’ went into disuse when people started monitoring the river for noxious bacteria – mostly from failing septic systems in houses along the river and effluent from water fowl.

    Visit http://www.musconetcong.org for the story on dam removal. If you like what you see, please join us!

    Reply

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