Economic and Ecological Recovery of the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers, Estuary, and Nearshore Marine Environment

Michelle Kaufman’13 (Sociology and Environmental Studies).  Bowdoin College. “Economic and Ecological Recovery of the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers, Estuary, and Nearshore Marine Environment.” Phil Camill and Eileen Johnson, advisors.

Project Summary:
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. People often engage in river restoration for a personal reason or due to a personal experience, so it is difficult for people to work together when they are invested in their own issue. This lack of vision was especially prevalent with organizations on the Kennebec river, potentially due to the fact that the river has reached an acceptable level of quality, so people do not know where to go next. Additionally, people’s perception of the water quality does not match up with actual water quality. This works in two ways where either people think it is dirtier than it actually is so they will not use the river, or people think it is aesthetically pleasing and therefore no work needs to be done. Lastly, interviews revealed that there was often a clash between conservation and economic stimulation, where some people viewed them as opposing forces. A follow-up survey will be sent out to the stakeholders this fall for a more detailed study of river restoration.

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