TOWNSHIP 1, RANGE 12, Maine — The section of the Roach River that was de-watered after a dam mishap in August isn’t a spot that is targeted by anglers that often, but a guide and a fisheries conservationist agree that the incident is worth taking seriously.
“Drying any stream is unacceptable,” said registered Maine Guide Dan Legere, proprietor of Greenville’s Maine Guide Fly Shop. “Someone should be held accountable.”
Jeff Reardon, Trout Unlimited’s Maine brook trout project director, said he hasn’t been to the dam site to evaluate the situation, but said the event may be unprecedented in Maine.
“I can’t think of another instance of a trout/salmon stream being de-watered like this,” Reardon said. “The closest similar event I recall was more than 10 years ago during a long drought when there were reports that some streams in northern Maine were pumped dry by irrigation.”
And those incidents had immediate repercussions, he said.
“Maine made some changes in in-stream flow law and rules for water withdrawals in response, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything similar since,” Reardon said.
The incident occurred in August when dam construction on land owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club left about a mile stretch of the Roach River without water for a 10-day period.
The dewatering of the river, as this situation is known, triggered a notice of violation against the club by Maine’s Land Use Planning Commission, a copy of which was obtained by the Bangor Daily News.
Among the ecological consequences, according to fisheries biologists, the vast majority of two year classes of wild landlocked salmon and brook trout — those that naturally hatched in the river last year and those that hatched this year — were lost.
Legere, who fishes the region nearly every day in the spring and summer, said that stretch of the Roach River is not a destination he frequents.
“I have not fished that section because it is small water,” Legere said. “I do believe it has a smelt run in the spring and trout from First Roach [Pond] are at the mouth for a short time in the spring. [But] the water in the bay that leads to the stream is very shallow and warms quickly. It’s more of a chub hangout than prime trout habitat.”
Tim Obrey, regional fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said he did not think the dewatering event would have significant impact on the more popular part of the river, which stretches from a dam at First Roach Pond all the way to Moosehead Lake.
That section of water is a popular destination for fly fishermen.
“Those fish [that died] would drop into First Roach Pond, not necessarily the [lower] river, but the pond itself,” Obrey said.
Reardon said that Trout Unlimited was paying close attention to the incident nonetheless.
“[Trout Unlimited] believes there are several factors that increased the impact of this event,” Reardon said. “It’s quite a high-value stream, supporting wild brook trout and landlocked salmon that provide fisheries in both Roach River and First Roach Pond.”
In addition, the fact that the event took place in August, when the water was at its warmest and lowest, meant coldwater species like salmon were stressed even before the de-watering.
“[And] based on the timeline in the notice of violation, once flow into Roach River from the new dam was stopped, it was 10 days before the problem was reported or any actions were taken to restore flow, and only then in response to a citizen complaint,” Reardon said. “This almost certainly increased the impact of the de-watering event.”
Reardon said that Trout Unlimited’s biggest concern in the near future is that the AMC provide a temporary method to restore flow to the river without the use of pumping equipment, which is currently being used.
“So long as the river flow depends on people running mechanical equipment, we run the risk that a mechanical breakdown or [lack of] oversight de-waters the stream again,” Reardon said. “In the longer term, this is a serious event, and we’ll be watching to make sure that Maine’s agencies pursue the violation to ensure that the situation is permanently resolved. Given the magnitude of the impact and the value of the affected public resources, appropriate mitigation should be required.”