Dear Town of Camden Select Board and Library Board of Trustees

The Town of Camden has shown its commitment to addressing the climate crisis in a number of areas, and we are pleased to hear about the considerations being made in regard to the future of the Megunticook watershed and Montgomery Dam.

As high school students, we represent some of the youngest members of our community — many of us having grown up enjoying the beauties of the Megunticook River and Lake. To that end, we want to give our strong support to the town’s initiative to restore the Megunticook River to its full ecological and natural potential.

Long before European settlers came to the Penobscot region, the Megunticook River was a thriving and abundant ecosystem, home to a multitude of diadromous fish, and a sustaining habitat for numerous species. Upon their arrival in the 1760s, European settlers harnessed the river’s waterflow, constructing power dams which spanned from the mouth of the harbor to Megunticook Lake. The Town of Camden relied upon the river to power the town’s mills and economy.

Since then, the Megunticook watershed has served as a cultural and economic focal point in our historic town. Along its 3.5-mile span, the river now weaves through a tapestry of old infrastructure, including the remnants of multiple 18th-century mill factories and seven decaying dams. While at the time these dams served as an important driver of Camden’s economy, today only the few that control the water level on Megunticook Lake and Norton Pond serve an actual functional purpose.

We recognize the magnitude of the proposed changes — especially in terms of the visual and experiential changes it would bring to Camden’s historic waterfront. However, it is important to put words like “historic ” into perspective, especially when talking about relic infrastructure built by early European colonizers. Humans interacted with the Megunticook long before settlers built the dams that we see today. The Penobscot tribal peoples depended upon this region’s once thriving natural rivers. Sea-run fish were a major source of food in the spring and summer months. When the rivers opened up in the spring, masses of sea-run species would flood in from the ocean, filling brooks and streams throughout the entire watershed. Not only did these fish bring sustenance to indigenous tribes, but they deposited essential nutrients from the sea into the rivers. Sea-run fish also provide vital prey for some of Maine’s most favorite birds.

Many species, including non-sea-run fish like Brook trout, rely on clean, cold pools as a sanctuary during the hot summer months. Naturally flowing rivers are inherently cooler. Dams, however, slow the pace of a river. The slower current allows the water to get warmer, causing it to lose dissolved oxygen which can lead to fatal conditions for many species. From overfishing and climate change to the impacts of anthropogenic pollution, sea-run fish both continue to lose habit throughout the Northeast watersheds and suffer lower survival rates in the ocean. Sea-run fish need protected spawning grounds to ensure the survival of their populations. They need our river.

We encourage the town to imagine the Megunticook in its natural state. Each year, American Eels, Alewives, Blueback Herring, Sea Lamprey, Rainbow Smelt, and Sea run Brook Trout — just to name a few — could be seen traveling upstream from the harbor all the way to Megunticook Lake and beyond. It would be quite a spectacle at the mouth of the river. School children, local residents, and tourists alike could gather to watch the thousands of fishes navigate the natural current upstream to their spawning grounds. Parents, instead of worrying about their children toppling over the sea wall, could sit back as they play and explore along a shoreline teaming with tide pools and sea creatures. Instead of a standing concrete pool, tourists and locals alike could sit overlooking a beautiful, natural cascading waterfall.

We believe the Town of Camden also has potential to be a leader in coastal climate resilience. The proposed project, while crucial to the health of our watershed, also provides vital infrastructure adaptations to address sea level rise and increases in extreme precipitation events due to climate change. In periods of heavy rain, the Megunticook River in its current state threatens to flood roads, drainage systems, and neighboring buildings. In addition, as the river floods dry land, it sweeps pollutants into the watershed.

Right now, the Megunticook, while beautiful, is a shadow of its former, natural self. Before the dams impeded the passage of essential sea-run species, the entire watershed benefited from a much stronger connection to the sea. While Camden may no longer rely on the river as a source of energy or food, we still enjoy it for its beauty and recreational opportunities. The river is central to our way of life here in Camden — from tourism dollars and recreation to water drainage and public health, we are all intrinsically connected to the Megunticook. Therefore, we offer our strong encouragement and support for the Megunticook River Restoration project.

Respectfully, the Students of Watershed School