The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began preliminary work in September on a project to remove Bloede’s Dam from the Patapsco River in Patapsco Valley State Park. The announcement follows several years of work by the department and its partners to develop a comprehensive, cost-effective plan to remove the public safety hazard and fish obstruction.
“This project is testament to the power of partnership,” said Natural Resources Assistant Secretary Daryl Anthony in an April release that officially announced approval for the project.
Specifically, the removal of Bloede’s Dam targets three primary objectives: improved public safety; restoration of fish and aquatic organism passage; and sharing Patapsco River’s historic, cultural and recreational background.
American Rivers, a national advocacy group that promotes river enhancement and restoration projects, is among the partners working to remove the dam and is overseeing contracting for the process.
Although American Rivers hasn’t yet provided the amounts of funding it has received specific to Bloede’s Dam, the organization released the following statement:
“This effort has been made possible thanks to generous contributions from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, NOAA, The Coca-Cola Foundation, Keurig-Green Mountain and the U.S. Department of the Interior, both through a grant administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as part of the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program, and through USFWS funding from the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. It is one of 70 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery and resilience projects in the Northeast under this funding.”
Constructed in 1906 and named for Victor Gustav Bloede, who founded the Avalon Water Works, Bloede’s Dam was the first underwater hydroelectric plant in the world. It produced electricity until it closed in 1924.
During the intervening years, recreational injuries and deaths have occurred at or near the dam, and the structure has contributed to the buildup of silt in the river.
Bloede’s Dam also has had an adverse effect on natural resources, blocking the natural migration of historically large runs of shad, herring and American eels for more than a century.
According to DNR Spokesman Gregg Bortz, Phase 1 work has been completed and Phase 2 is underway, which entails constructing a river crossing, installing erosion and sediment controls, clearing trees and constructing a temporary retaining wall.
Additionally, the contractor will replace the existing Baltimore County sanitary sewerline.
“Phase 2 will be ongoing until approximately August 2018,” Bortz said, and will necessitate closure of the Ilchester Road pedestrian bridge and the section of trail from Ilchester Road to Bloede’s Dam until project completion in 2019.
Actual demolition of the dam using excavators is scheduled to take place from September 2018 until November 2018, to be followed by the Phase 4 installation of a 12-inch Howard County sewerline and Phase 5 construction of overlooks and final vegetation and forest restoration efforts.
Loss vs. Gain
Ned Tillman, a Columbia author whose books chronicle and celebrate the natural history of the region, said he has been aware of a goal to remove the dam for at least 20 years.
“This is one of the hard ones for me, as someone who is half historian and half scientist,” Tillman said. “I’m going to be interested to see if we can actually get the shad and herring to come back up the river like they used to.”
DNR’s attempt to bypass the dam by constructing a fish ladder in the 1990s was not successful. “Since these were installed, new research has shown that while ladders may be effective in certain situations, dam removal is by far the better choice for providing fish passage,” Bortz said.
Although the original vision to address the loss of a cultural and historic resource recommended retaining a portion of the dam structure on the Howard County side,
Bortz said the decision was made to remove the dam in its entirety due to safety concerns.
“The dam will be documented and recorded prior to demolition for historic purposes, and overlooks with interpretive signage are to be constructed in both Baltimore and Howard counties,” he said.
The Patapsco River marks the dividing line between the counties within Patapsco Valley State Park.
Long Term Benefits
After Bloede’s Dam is removed, Daniels Dam eight miles upstream will remain the only impediment to fish and eel migration on the Patapsco. Although NOAA provided money in 2013 for engineering design of its removal, no plans have yet been announced specific to Daniels Dam and its more efficient fish ladder.
DNR officials are working toward the goal of a restored Patapsco River System — 65 miles in total, including its branches — with long-term cost savings for the department, particularly from maintenance costs associated with the fish ladders.
Additionally, they envision long-term ecological benefits to the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay stemming from healthier populations of native fish species, an increased diversity of aquatic insects, and cooler, oxygen-rich waters that will help improve the fishery.
In the meantime, removal of Bloede’s Dam will also enable improved recreational opportunities for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and tubing, and will enable a return to a more scenic and natural river setting in that area.
“The dam is a classic part of our history,” said Tillman, one example of the many successful enterprises that arose from the industrialization of the Patapsco River Valley.
“But even so,” he said, “it’s exciting to see that there’s still enough interest at the county, state and federal levels to continue moving forward to improve the environment.”