Restoring Trout Habitat at the Johnsons Mill Dam
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
The District is working with state and federal wildlife agencies to remove the Johnsons Mill Dam in Bakersfield, reconnecting habitat for native brook trout and improving water quality. The Johnsons Mill Dam, built on the Bogue Branch near Witchcat Road, was once a productive saw mill but now, after decades of disuse, is in a state of deterioration. Removing the dam will reconnect 22 stream miles and allow brook trout to move upstream and downstream of the dam, allowing them to access the cool, high-elevation streams they need during Vermont’s hot summer months. Dam removals also improve water quality by allowing streams to naturally transport sediment and by helping mitigate excessive erosion in the case of a dam failure.
Steve Cooper, the property owner, requested assistance with removing the dam after we contacted him last year. Cooper said he decided to pursue removal because, “I believe in balancing preservation of history with restoration and the enjoyment of natural habitats.”
To our great surprise, the dam’s old spillway breached during the Halloween storm. Bakersfield got over six inches of rain, which mobilized a significant amount of sediment impounded behind the dam. This was an outcome we had hoped to prevent through the removal project. “When we started this project, we did it because we knew the dam was bound to fail. We just didn’t think it would happen before we could take it out” said Brodie Haenke, manager of the project. In November, the District received a grant for $125,000 from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to remove the dam. We are already working with Stone Environmental to complete the conceptual designs, and plan to implement the removal and cleanup in the fall of this year. “Our streams and rivers need space to flow naturally across the landscape, so any time we can remove man-made structures like dams out of a river’s path, it’s a win for our water,” said Haenke.
A Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Watershed Grant provided support for this project.