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UNH Survey: Most N.H. Residents Prefer Dam Removal

Harry McCoy via NOAA Fisheries
Exeter removed its Great Dam from downtown in 2016, allowing the Squamscott River to flow freely.

A first-of-its-kind survey shows New Hampshire residents generally favor removing dams from local rivers.

Researchers from UNH asked 1,500 residents about whether they’d prefer to see a hypothetical dam removed, allowing for a free-flowing river, when presented with various alternatives.

They asked if residents would want dams to remain in place for hydro-electric generation or historic preservation, or to maintain property values or recreational opportunities.

The study found that residents, especially liberal-leaning ones, almost always favored dam removal. But they were least in favor of dam removal when the alternative use of the dam was for hydropower.

"In a sense, [the liberal respondents were] asked to choose between a free-flowing river, which has certain ecological benefits, versus hydropower, a source of green energy,” says UNH Ph.D. candidate Natallia Leuchanka, who co-authored the study. “And so the choice becomes a little more difficult."

UNH assistant professor Catherine Ashcraft, another co-author, says dam removal plans always spark controversy in the region – and the public opinions reflected in this survey are not necessarily well-reflected in local debate.

She hopes this data will inform policy-makers in deciding how to spend money on dam maintenance.

"Our findings provide some guidance about the public interest for using those resources,” she says.

State regulators estimate New Hampshire has more than 3,000 active dams, among some 14,000 in New England. Many are at least 100 years old and were left by old industries.

Ashcraft and Leuchanka’s team is continuing to work with counterparts in other New England states to study those dams, and their uses and condition, more closely.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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