Ecological and Economic Recovery of the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers, estuary, and nearshore marine environment

Michele Kaufman, 2013

The Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers were historically low quality rivers due to excessive industrial waste and transportation use on the rivers. Since the Clean Water Act in 1972, work has been done on both rivers to improve their quality. The Kennebec river, however, is being restored at a quicker and more successful rate than the Androscoggin river. The rivers have different pasts, with the Kennebec being used primarily for transportation, while the Androscoggin was populated with mills. Additionally, they are simply different rivers, and to some extent there is a biological explanation for these differences. However, these two points aside, the social and economic aspects of the rivers had not been evaluated. Studying these aspects of the river provides further explanation for the difference in restoration of the two rivers.

More specifically, studying the role of river systems in local, regional, and state economies provides insight into why different organizations may be working on various aspects of river restoration. Three proxies for river restoration were chosen to more easily compare the two rivers, allowing for more analysis to occur on the potentially arbitrary topic of river restoration. The proxies were amenity development, FERC licensing/dam removal, and water classification.

Forty interviews were conducted throughout the summer with a broad range of stakeholders along the two rivers. Interviewees local NGOs, fishing guides, representatives of municipalities, state and federal agencies, mills owners, and hydropower companies, among others. Using a set protocol of questions, stakeholders were asked questions pertaining to their perception of the current state of the rivers, changes on the rivers, actions they are taking, a vision for where the rivers are going, and how they collaborate with other organizations. Once an interview was completed, a contact summary form was written up containing the main points and themes from the interview that would later be helpful in analysis. Interviews ranged in length from 30 minutes to two hours. Interviews were tape recorded and transcribed. All individual names and organizations were replaced for confidentiality and anonymity. The interview transcriptions are currently being analyzed using Nvivo, a qualitative data analysis software program.

General themes that came up are that there are many small organizations working on various dimensions of rive restoration, but there is a lack of unified vision. Motivations for engagement among stakeholder organizations varied.  There is a general sense that as the Kennebec river has reached an “acceptable” level of quality, there is less engagement on the part of the general public.  Additionally, stakeholder organizations sense that residents’ perception of the water quality does not match up with actual water quality. This hs two implications.  If residents perceive that water quality is lower than it  it actually is, they are less inclined to recreate near or on the river.   A second implication is that in cases where residents think it is aesthetically pleasing and therefore no work needs to be done, they are less likely to engage in restoration work. Lastly, interviews revealed that the rivers are increasingly being viewed as potential economic assets for the region,  but there are some lingering tensions between the role of conservation and economic development.  A follow-up survey will be sent out to the stakeholders this fall for a more detailed study of river restoration.

Faculty Mentors: Phil Camill. Eileen Johnson,

Funded by the University of Maine, Sustainability Solutions Initiative

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