Downstream of Churchill Dam
The water from Churchill Dam runs north along the Allagash River. The Allagash River is in a very remote area with few major settlements along its banks. There is, however, a state owned road accessing Churchill Dam and leading upstream. There are a few other state owned roads. Furthermore, most access roads to the river are privately owned and charge an entry fee. There are only seven access points into the waterway for motor vehicles. The closest state highways are Route 161 near the town of Allagash and Route 11. The limitations to public access to the waterway reduce unsightly construction, noise, and greater degradation through greater use. Within the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, there are limitations on boats with motors, aircraft use, construction within 300 feet of the river, timber operations near the river, and access. The limits on access to the waterway have created controversy between users who want more access and users or outsiders who want to keep in inaccessible and wild.
Figure 1: Downstream view of Churchill Dam
The water from the Allagash River flows into the St. John River, into Canada, and then into the Bay of Fundy in the Atlantic Ocean. The St. John River is mostly wilderness while in Maine. The waters of the St. John River eventually flow past cities, such as the capital of New Brunswick and Saint John at the mouth of the river. Municipalities create water quality issues such as storm water runoff and industrial wastewater. In addition, timber harvesting occurs in the forests around the Allagash and the St. John River.
Since the 1930s, the Dickey-Lincoln School Dam Project on the St. John has been considered by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The project was authorized by Congress in 1965 and a full proposal was created in 1974. This project would have put in the Dickey Dam and the Lincoln School Dam to provide electricity during peak times. If constructed, the project would have generated over 800 Megawatts and would have provided about 17% of New England's peak energy during the 1980s. Churchill Dam would likely have modified its flow levels and times to maximize energy production at these sites. The project would have inundated about 88,000 acres of land and part of the St. John River. However, the Dickey-Lincoln project was not built because of controversies over energy at the time. The project had to meet new White House water resource policies at the time. Additionally, there was a lot of debate over the economic and environmental costs of the project for just peak energy production. The project concept was deauthorized by Congress in 1986. In addition, considerations for the Furbish Lousewort (Pedicularis furbishiae), an endangered plant, harmed the project. In 1976, Furbish Lousewort was rediscovered along the St. John during survey work for the Environmental Impact Statement for the Dickey-Lincoln Project. The banks of the St. John are still the only place where Furbish Lousewort is found today. The Army Corps worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a conservation program that would allow the project to continue and allow for protection of Furbish lousewort. The two agencies agreed on a conservation plan that would allow Dickey-Lincoln to still be constructed while protecting the species through research, monitoring, protection of habitat, and establishment of new colonies. The Furbish Lousewort rediscovery is not what halted the project in the 1970s. In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that they "believe that if the conservation program is followed, it will result in an increase in numbers of the species and increased protection for its habitat." The Dickey-Lincoln project was recently brought under discussion again, but construction is not planned.
Figure 2: Diagram of the endangered Furbish Lousewort
There have been other dam proposals on the St. John. In the 1980s, the Rankin Rapids Dam was proposed, but it would have flooded the Allagash River back to Churchill Lake (thus destroying all natural riffles, etc.). This would have destroyed fish spawning areas and, through the inundation of Allagash Falls, would have allowed warm-water fish into the Allagash Waterway. Another dam at Cross Rock Rapids on the St. John was proposed in the 1980s as well. It would have flooded the Allagash back to Eagle Lake and would have had similar negative impacts as the Rankin Rapids Dam.
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History of Churchill Dam
Upstream of Churchill Dam
Future of Churchill Dam