Taunton, MA, Dam Removed; Fish Passage Improved

In its heyday, the West Britannia Dam on the Mill River in Taunton, MA, provided power for the Reed & Barton silversmith factory. But after 175 years in business, the once-prominent company that produced sterling silver, silverplate flatware, and the official medals for the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, declared bankruptcy and closed its Taunton operations in May 2015.

The company left behind an earthen berm and masonry dam, one of four barriers on the Mill River, a tributary of the Taunton River, that has blocked more than 30 miles of riverine habitat and approximately 560 acres of freshwater pond habitat for alewife, blueback herring, and American eel. A dam has existed at this site since at least 1824, when Reed & Barton took over the site from a previous mill business. The dam removal now opens up habitat that hasn’t been accessible to migratory fishes for nearly 200 years.

As part of the Mill River Restoration Project, the Hopewell Mill Dam was removed in 2012, the Whitteton Pond Dam was removed in 2013, and also in 2013, the failing Morey’s Bridge Dam that forms Lake Sabbatia was replaced and includes a new fish ladder and eel ramp. In addition to opening up important habitat for sea-run fish, the dam removals also reduce the threats of flooding, restore water quality, and eliminate the potential for catastrophic dam failures posed by these obsolete dams. In October 2005, downtown Taunton was temporarily evacuated due to the threat of the failure of the Whitteton Pond Dam during high flood flows. The Mill River Restoration Project complements other dam removal projects in the Taunton River watershed including passage barriers on Rattlesnake Brook, the Canoe River, and the Cotley River.

Now, the removal of the West Britannia dam, the final step of the Mill River Restoration Project, is underway. Acuity, Inc., the latest  owner of the mill and dam complex, fully supports the Britannia Dam removal and has been a much-appreciated pro-active project partner.