Effort will improve public safety, health of Patapsco River and Chesapeake Bay
Construction workers broke ground this month on a major project to restore the health of the Patapsco River and Chesapeake Bay and improve public safety in Maryland’s Patapsco Valley State Park. Workers are relocating a sewer line and preparing the site in preparation for the removal of Bloede Dam.
Removal of the 34-foot high by 220-foot long Bloede Dam is a partnership of American Rivers, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and others. It is the linchpin of a larger plan— including removal of the Union and Simkins dams in 2010— to restore more than 65 miles of spawning habitat for blueback herring, alewife, American shad, hickory shad, and more than 183 miles for American eel in the Patapsco River watershed.
“This is one of the most significant dam removal and river restoration projects we’ve seen in the Mid-Atlantic, and nationwide,” said Serena McClain, senior director of river restoration for American Rivers. “The benefits of this project will resonate long into the future, improving the lives of community members, revitalizing the health of the Bay, and inspiring a new generation about the importance of healthy, free-flowing rivers.”
The Patapsco River flows into the Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore and supports abundant and diverse species of fish and wildlife. The Bloede Dam serves as the first barrier on the Patapsco River blocking fish swimming to and from the Chesapeake Bay. Its removal is critical to improving access to habitat and restoring overall ecosystem balance and health.
“At long last, we are reclaiming a river ecosystem, restoring a waterway in the heart of Central Maryland and resolving a public safety hazard,” said Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton. “This dam removal project will enhance and improve Patapsco Valley State Park for all of its inhabitants and visitors, from bikers and hikers to eels and shad.”
“The removal of Bloede dam is a result of a long-term partnership among NOAA, USFWS, the State of Maryland and American Rivers,” said Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “This project truly exemplifies the multiple benefits of habitat restoration. Together, we will remove unnecessary and unsafe structures while enhancing the natural resiliency of the Patapsco River Valley to benefit local communities, and will restore 65 miles of spawning habitat for herring, shad, eel and other species.”
Bloede Dam is a documented safety hazard located within Patapsco Valley State Park. Injuries and deaths have repeatedly occurred, with at least nine damrelated deaths since the 1980s, the most recent of which occurred in June 2015. Removing the dam will allow visitors to swim, boat, and potentially float nearly 17 miles of the Patapsco from below Daniels Dam to near the mouth of the river largely unencumbered.
Episodic flooding has plagued the Patapsco River watershed and has resulted in the breach of dams upstream and downstream of Bloede Dam. The removal of Bloede Dam will eliminate the risk of catastrophic failure, which could have resulted in damage to infrastructure and personal property.
“We’re proud to join our partners in restoring rivers and river systems to better withstand future storms and other environmental and land-use changes,” said Wendi Weber, USFWS Northeast Regional Director. “Healthy rivers are lifelines for communities in the Northeast — providing recreation, water quality, strong economies and other benefits. By connecting and opening waterways like the Patapsco River, we’re helping wildlife thrive and creating more resilient communities for people.”
Demolition of Bloede Dam will begin in summer 2018. Originally built in the early 1900s to supply electrical power to the cities of Catonsville in Baltimore County and Ellicott City in Howard County, the dam is owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. It currently serves no functional purpose.
More than 1,300 dams have been removed across the country since 1912. Most of those dams (1,174) were removed in the past 30 years. According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, America’s dams are degrading faster than they are being repaired, the number of high hazard dams has increased over time, and the cost to rehabilitate dams continues to rise. By 2020, seventy percent of dams in the United States will be more than 50 years old. Aging dams can pose a serious safety threat for individuals and entire communities. Dam removal can deliver multiple benefits to communities including improved public safety, better water quality, revitalized fish and wildlife, and more opportunities for local business and recreation.
This effort has been made possible thanks to generous contributions from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, NOAA, The Coca-Cola Foundation, Keurig-Green Mountain, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, both through a grant administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as part of the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program and through USFWS funding from the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. It is one of 70 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery and resilience projects in the Northeast under this funding.