Millie Turner Dam Removal & Nissitissit River Restoration

Removal of the Millie Turner Dam opened over 40 miles of mainstem and tributary habitat.
Three images show before, during and after dam removal.
Left to Right: Dam before removal; dam at the start of removal and the Nissitissit River after dam removal.

In September 2015, a private dam owner, the Town of Pepperell, DER, MassWildlife, and partners removed the Millie Turner Dam on the Nissitissit River in Pepperell. The Nissitissit River is a high-quality cold water stream with native Eastern brook trout, state-listed mussel habitat, and exemplary natural communities (BioMap Core habitat). The dam raised water temperatures and lowered dissolved oxygen in the impoundment and limited access to cold water habitat for native brook trout. Project goals included (1) restoring habitat connectivity, (2) improving water quality, and (3) eliminating risks and liabilities associated with the deteriorated dam.

Benefits of Removal

Dam removal helps fish and wildlife survive climate change by expanding the amount, quality, and diversity of habitat available. Removal of the Millie Turner Dam opened over 40 miles of mainstem and tributary habitat. Fish and other aquatic species are now able to access coldwater refugia during the warm summer months, access critical spawning, rearing, and feeding areas, and seek quieter streams during mainstem floods.

Removing the dam reduced dam owner liability and protected Town infrastructure and resources from the threat of a catastrophic dam breach. The High Hazard, Poor condition dam posed a risk to the Route 111 Bridge and residences downstream. The dam exacerbated upstream flooding. Had the dam not been removed, it would have continued to deteriorate during flood events and eventually failed.

Project Costs & Funding

Removing the dam cost $330,000 including design and permitting compared with an estimated $2.8 million to repair the dam. Funding came from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Hurricane Sandy Resilience Program and DER. MassWildlife provided matching funds associated with land acquisition to protect 17 acres of wildlife habitat surrounding the site.

Project Partners

DER and MassWildlife led the project in partnership with the Town, the private dam owner, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, Nashua River Watershed Association, Nashoba Conservation Trust, MA Outdoor Heritage Foundation, Nissitissit River Land Trust, and others within the watershed. Gomez & Sullivan was the project engineer and T. Ford Company was the construction contractor.

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