Union River

union river rainbowFor the last several years the Downeast Salmon Federation has had the unfortunate opportunity to bear witness to young of the year river herring and adult American eels that are killed by the operation of the Leonard Lake hydropower dam on the Union River in downtown Ellsworth. This monitoring pushed Brookfield—the dam’s operators—to study downstream eel passage survival. The study yielded some discouraging numbers, showing that several of the dam’s turbines are highly efficient at killing adult eels. The results of the study did, however, push Brookfield to adopt a new operating plan that attempts to minimize the chances of killing eels during the peak of their migration. This is the first step in the right direction, but this year showed that it is not enough.

Starting October 12, 2016, DSF staff and volunteers documented and collected river herring and eels that had been killed or maimed while passing over the dam’s downstream “fish-passage” or through its turbines in what has become an ongoing fish kill. We hope this data and the media response to the kills will inform regulators and the public that there is a need for change and that there are many more steps that must be taken to begin the recovery of the Union River’s native fisheries.  You can see video evidence of the ongoing fish kills taken in the Spring of 2019 here.

Union River Fish Kill_10_4_2015

The Union River dams are currently under review for a 30-year license renewal with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Details on this case can be found at FERC.gov under the Docket # P-2727. Here is a link to the FERC website where you can register to gain access to the online application for dam license renewal and correspondence followed by additional links to press, videos, and docket P-2727 correspondence.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

Alewife Harvesters of Maine_Letter to FERC_2_7_2017



Ellsworth American Op-ed_Modern fishway is essential for dam’s future_1_20_2017

Union River Turbidity Study_1_9_2017


National Marine Fisheries Service_Letter to FERC_11_30_2016



Union River Fish Kill Video_10_31_2016

Fish Kill Complaint of Downeast Salmon Federation_10_16_2016

Fish Kill on the Union River_Video_10_12_2016

Union River Fish Kill_Video_10_12_2016

A report regarding the relicensing of the Ellsworth and Graham Lake Dams, Union River, Maine_9_2016

DSF_American Eel Passage Safety_9_22_2016

Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife_Graham Lake Water Level Concerns 6_17_2016

DSF Complaint Regarding Fish Kill and License Violation_10_7_2015

DSF Protest of Fish Kills 10_5_2015

Union River Fish Kill_Video_10_5_2015

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service_Comment to FERC_12_3_2014

Union River Fish Kill_Eel_Video_11_22_2014

Alewive Mortality at Union River_10_27_2014

Union River Fish Kill_Video_10_24_2014

There is good news coming from the Union River watershed. We have found that there are many local residents and business owners who feel the time for change is coming to the Union River. There was overwhelming, supportive attendance at a public forum where DSF Executive Director, Dwayne Shaw, spoke about the possibilities of an Ellsworth with healthy, productive fisheries. You can watch Dwayne’s talk from September 2016 here: PART I; PART II. We have seen a steady drip of comments to FERC and the Ellsworth American asking for big changes to be made on the river. The Union is starting its recovery from a long history of misuse. The growing swell of support for free passage of fish and rethinking the river’s place in our lives shows that there are many who are passionate about the river’s future, and that is a big step in the right direction.

How to take action on the Union River:

Stay informed by signing up for DSF’s Union River email list if you haven’t already. We’re doing our best to keep you informed and up to date on the re-licensing process as it develops. Sign up for our email list.

Sign the omailto:shelley@mainesalmonrivers.orgnline Citizen and Stakeholder Petition on the Union River Dams— FERC Project P-2727— and talk with others in your neighborhood about signing the petition as well. Please return any hard copy Union River Petitions to Downeast Salmon Federation so that we can properly submit the document to FERC. Mail the petition to: Downeast Salmon Federation, P.O. Box 201, Columbia Falls, Maine 04623. You can also contact DSF staff members Brett Ciccotelli or Shelley Hart and hand the signed petition to one of us in person.

Send a comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Your voice matters. Learn how to comment here: How to eComment with FERC.