The Future of Dufresne Dam on the Batten Kill
March 24, 2005
Dufresne Dam is located on the Batten Kill in Manchester. It is the only dam on the main stem of the Batten Kill. Dufresne Pond is the 9-acre impoundment formed by the dam. The dam was originally built to supply power to a local mill. Since 1957, the dam and the surrounding lands have been owned and managed by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. The pond is stocked with catchable-size (yearling) brook trout creating a put-and-take fishery for anglers.
Over the years, the Dufresne Dam has needed a variety of repairs and maintenance. Since 1986, over $100,000 has been spent on repairs. The latest expenditure was in excess of $50,000 to fix the catwalk that spans the spillway and other problems. The State of Vermont will continue to spend limited funds for dam repairs in future years. In fact, the State dam safety engineer recently inspected the dam and determined that repairs necessary to correct a seepage problem at the dam and maintain it in a safe condition would cost at least $250,000.
State officials and local citizens have been concerned for some time with the pond filling in with sediment and being overtaken by aquatic plants. Sedimentation is a common problem at dams, because rivers naturally carry sediment downstream, and the construction of a dam across a river interrupts that sediment flow. Not only does the impoundment fill with sediment, but the river channel downstream erodes as the energy of the river scours sediment to replace that captured in the impoundment. This destabilizes the river channel increasing the likelihood of damage to property along the river and degrading aquatic habitat.
An on-stream impoundment, like Dufresne Pond, also alters the water temperature of the impoundment and the river downstream of it making the environment less suitable for coldwater fishes, such as trout. The elevated water temperature also contributes to low levels of dissolved oxygen that is critical to fish and the aquatic insects on which they feed.
Dufresne Dam obstructs the free movement of fish within the river preventing them from having access to critical upstream habitat, such as for spawning. Dufresne Dam also blocks the flow of nutrients and woody debris, which are both needed to maintain abundant fish populations.
While Dufresne Pond does provide wetland habitat and a stocked trout fishery, it is not in a sustainable state. It is sustained by a dam requiring ongoing maintenance and repairs.
Several years ago, the Department of Fish and Wildlife considered installing a fish ladder at Dufresne Dam to allow trout and other species to migrate upstream. Following further investigation, it became clear that removal of the dam should be considered as an option, since it could be less expensive in the long run and reap additional economic and environmental benefits.
Benefits to Dam Removal
Taxpayer and sportsmen dollars could be saved if Dufresne Dam were removed. Dam removal is a cheaper alternative than expending limited funds on dam maintenance with increasing frequency. The status quo is not an option. At the very least, the dam will need expensive repairs. If the dam is retained, the Fish & Wildlife Department will have to install a fish ladder, incurring further expense.
Dam removal will restore valuable trout habitat in the Batten Kill. Dam removal would also create a sustainable system where natural movement downstream of sediment, nutrients and woody debris could occur to improve aquatic habitat.
Removal of the dam and restoration of this reach of the Batten Kill would be a good candidate for funding from foundations and other sources that support river restoration, reducing reliance on tax dollars.
A partnership of local citizens, anglers, nonprofit and governmental agencies could form to remove Dufresne Dam and restore the reach to a naturally flowing and functioning river.
Local citizens and angling groups could lead the planning effort and participate in the on-the-ground restoration work. Restoration projects also provide terrific educational opportunities for involving young people.
Dufresne Pond provides the public with a warm-water fishery. However, the Department of Fish and Wildlife owns another pond in Manchester (Bullhead Pond) that could provide similar recreational opportunities, including an annual kids’ fishing derby.