Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Final Phase of Shady Lea dam removal to restore fish passage to Mattatuxet River

July 2, 2018


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

water flowing over dam

Credit: USFWS

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. – July 2, 2018 – Today, work begins on the second phase of a $290,000 initiative to remove the high-hazard-designated dam at the historic Shady Lea Mill and restore the natural free-flowing river channel. The two-week project will improve passage for migratory fish and improve safety of the surrounding area, and is made possible through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program that helps private dam owners mitigate the risk of hazardous dams. 

Located about 1.5 miles upstream of the fish ladder on the dam at the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace on Carrs Pond, the Shady Lea Mill dam is on the Mattatuxet River, a tributary of the tidally-influenced Narrow River estuary, which flows into Narragansett Bay. All together, the river system hosts one of the largest herring runs in Rhode Island and supports many resident fish and wildlife species. The project will restore stream habitat and access to spawning areas for migratory fish in the uppermost parts of the Mattatuxet River, make this stretch of river more resilient to increasing storm events, and increase the quality of recreational fishing in the surrounding areas.  

“We’re excited to join our many partners in the final phase of this important project at Shady Lea Mill,” said Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit. “This restoration effort is yet another step we’re taking to increase the resiliency of the Mettatuxet River watershed and address impacts from flooding and climate change on the river. This project will also improve access to spawning habitat for migratory fish. It is exciting to see habitat improvements on the Mettatuxet and Narrow Rivers supporting one of Rhode Island’s strongest river herring runs.”

The stone and concrete dam was built in the 1820s to power what was then known as the Springdale Factory, a textile manufacturer, in the historic hamlet of Shady Lea, Like most of Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution-era dams, it no longer serves a purpose; it has degraded so much that it was designated as a high-hazard dam by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management after the 2010 flood events. In addition to its ecological, recreational, and safety benefits, removal of the dam will reduce liability concerns for the dam’s private owner, Riesert Realty.  

“This is a tremendous example of how private property owners and natural resource managers can work together to simultaneously benefit the dam owner, community and natural resources,” said Kate McPherson, Riverkeeper at Save The Bay. 

Last fall, a small section of the dam was notched so that the impounded water above the dam could partially drain. Since then, the newly exposed shoreline has stabilized and re-vegetated with a wetland plant community. In this second phase of the dam removal project, the remainder of the dam at Shady Lea will be removed, and a stepped series of stone weirs will be installed to allow river herring and other fish to migrate upstream, even during low stream flow, while maintaining a stable stream channel. The project will preserve historic elements of the old mill raceway and a hydro turbine that exists next to the dam. Save The Bay and the DEM Division of Fish and Wildlife will continue to monitor fish passage and pool depth and flow conditions in the stone weirs. 

"Once Shady Lea dam is gone, river herring will be able to pass upstream to their historical spawning grounds, and the risks of downstream flooding in the event of a breach will be reduced. It's gratifying to see this long-term project come to fruition," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber. “In time, the former upstream impoundment will return to streamside habitat, and sediment will again be carried downstream to nourish coastal beaches. We appreciate the support of the State of Rhode Island and the leadership of Save The Bay on this important project.”

Project partners include the R.I. DEM Division of Fish and Wildlife, Save The Bay, the NOAA Restoration Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Reisert Realty. Funding for the project has come from the U.S. Department of the Interior Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience funds, Coastal Resources Management Council Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Fund, NOAA’s partnership with Restore America’s Estuaries, the Bafflin Foundation and Patagonia. 


About Save The Bay: Founded in 1970, Save The Bay works to protect and improve Narragansett Bay and its watershed through advocacy, education, and restoration efforts. It envisions a fully swimmable, fishable, healthy Narragansett Bay, accessible to everyone and globally recognized as an environmental treasure.  

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