As a sixth grader, it is important to me to have a voice in the decisions of my community. When all of the dams were built on the Presumpscot River, I wasn’t alive, yet the choices made then are affecting my future.

The Presumpscot River has seven dams along its 26-mile path, which stretches from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay. While the dams were once a source of pride for Maine residents, we now know that dams present challenges to fish migrating upstream because their passages become blocked by the dams. As a solution to this problem, engineers have developed fish ladders. Fish ladders are essentially small steps that gradually go up and around the dams; they can be installed on either side of dams underwater. Currently, the Presumpscot River has two fish passages, one at Saccarappa Falls and one at the Cumberland Mills dam in Westbrook, but that isn’t enough. The Presumpscot River needs a fish ladder on every dam as long as the dams stand because fish ladders are crucial to the survival of several fish species in Maine.

In 1900, 170 years after the first dam was constructed on the Presumpscot River, fish species such as the alewife weren’t spotted making runs that spring. This was concerning because in order for alewives to reproduce, they need to travel upstream. Some 113 years after that, a fish passage was installed at the Cumberland Mills Dam, which led to an increase in migration from species scientists hadn’t witnessed in the river in years.

In 2018, following the installment of the fish passage at Cumberland Mills, 52,892 river herring and 55 American shad were seen making their runs upstream the Presumpscot River from the Atlantic Ocean. Then, in the spring of 2021, hundreds of alewife were seen making their runs upstream in the Presumpscot River to spawn after centuries of being unable to return to Mallison Falls in Windham. This was groundbreaking for scientists and advocates of the Presumpscot River because our community had become one step closer to restoring the river to its former habitat.

Some of the people reading this won’t live to see the impacts of not having fish ladders beside the dams, but my generation will. If fish passages aren’t installed, we will see species go extinct, habitats destroyed and a river once filled with life become lifeless. Although it would be ideal to demolish all the dams on the Presumpscot River, currently that is unrealistic because the project is so extensive. Instead, we need to focus on building fish passages that can make the Presumpscot River home again to species that have been absent for decades.

Ava Welch is a sixth grader at Falmouth Middle School.

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