Dam! It’s gone!

The Exeter photograph in the header at the top of this blog shows water flowing on both sides of the small Kimball Island linked to the mainland on each side by the String Bridge. The rocky river beds form the Great Falls where the freshwater Exeter River meets the tidal saltwater Squamscott. Beyond that we have the Great Dam. Not Great in a Niagara Falls sense but Great for early citizens who saw the potential for industry using the water power. There were once paper mills, powder mills, fulling mill (cloth), oil mills, a sawmill, a grist mill, a starch mill (from potatoes), pottery works, sailcloth factory, tanneries, a saddlery works, hat factory, a woolen mill and more that depended on the power of water.

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This section of map by Phineas Merrill (below) in 1802 shows some mills. It also shows the Great Dam (Mill Dam), believed to be built in the first half of the 1600s. On the map are dams on either side of Kimball Island as well that were removed in the early part of the 20th century.

map exeterThe Exeter Manufacturing Company (textile manufacturer) eventually bought out the mills in the early 1800’s, gained water rights, maintaining and eventually replacing the wooden dam with concrete in 1914. Water was fed through a penstock that snaked underground to the company for supplemental power production until the company was sold in the 1960s to the Miliken Manufacturing Company (synthetics for automobiles), who in turn sold the factory to no other than Nike for their first U.S. plant. Now those buildings are handsome brick condominiums.

With the stability of the dam in question and serving no purpose except as a reminder of the industrial history of the city, the townspeople voted in 2014, after a decade of planning and work, to remove the landmark dam. This will restore the Exeter River to its natural state, thus protecting the town from future flooding. The fish ladder installed in the 1950s was no longer needed as the free-flowing river will facilitate normal fish migration to their upstream habitat during spawning.

And so the earthmovers, excavators, surveyors, engineers, and a multitude of workers arrived this summer.

Great Dam RemovalThe dam is gone. The fish ladder is gone. The penstock (pictured unsealed in first photo) has been sealed but remain as a reminder of Exeter’s history. A temporary cofferdam allowed the water to flow on one side while rock clusters and boulders were strategically installed on the dry side.

Click on photo to enlarge…

That work finished, the riverbed side was reversed last week. Water is being lowered on the left, the cofferdam moved, and the river diverted to the right. Large rocks and boulders are delivered daily and precisely placed by excavator. The sealed penstock can be seen in the 3rd photo.

Finished with the the closest river bed, they’re continuing the work downstream. They will begin to stregthen the existing foundations and add riprap as was done upstream. Our extreme drought has slowed water flow to a mere trickle which makes work easier on this project but tragic for the whole seacoast area.

The removal and work below the Great Bridge on the dam and river has been one of Exeter’s well-attended spectator events. Along with other residents, we are among the regulars watching the action. Click photos:

Some struggle to watch and others never see a thing! But they still come…

In addition, the String Bridge is being repaired. There’s always a lot to bring folks downtown these days. Whether shopping, dining, running errands, many pause to see what’s going on around the Great Dam project. It’s a popular pastime in Exeter and will continue to be until mid-October.

String Bridge

The New Hampshire Dept. of Environmental Services printed on their website that there are more than 4,800 active and inactive dams in the state. Many were built in the 19th and 20th century for industry. To view a list of dams that have been removed and those that are planned, click HERE. I’m very happy that we’ll make the “Completed” list soon.

Here today, Gone by Noon: Mushrooms

Storms, flooding, heat waves, droughts are capturing headlines lately.  Where I live, the Seacoast of New Hampshire, we are surviving the ‘Drought of 2016’. Not good. Wells are running dry; there are water restrictions and serious monetary fines for non-compliance in communities. Storm clouds and rain seem to go north or they go south of us and out to sea.  But last week we experienced some pop-up showers/storms and higher humidity. For a few days afterwards, these tiny mushrooms appeared here and there in the wee hours of the morning. They were sparse but they dotted only my lawn and no other yard that I could see.

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They are so fragile a mushroom that by noon, they had spread their spores and disappeared. Each morning the cycle repeated with a few tiny mushrooms appearing in the morning dew.

They are a fungus with living parts a foot or more under the soil. It’s not a bad thing and can actually be good for the lawn. They feed on decaying matter and release nutrients into the soil. In my case, the decaying matter is probably grass clippings. Although we live in a complex that provides a mowing service, I prefer to do my own. The mowing service roars through our complex in the hottest part of the day on fairway-type tractors spewing clippings into borders and scalping grass to 1″ in height. They weed & feed twice a summer and routinely spray pesticides.

I couldn’t accept any of that so here was my simple solution: No fertilizer, No weed killer, and No pesticides in my tiny stretch of lawn. After a soil sample by University of New Hampshire told me I need no more nitrogen and no more phosphorus, only potassium, I added just that.  In my small yard, I pull weeds by hand and I cut my own grass with the mower below.

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I mow late in the day and I mow our grass  3″ high. The grass clippings stay on the lawn, and, yes, it does seem to be healthier.  Plus a bonus: I had these cute little mushrooms greeting me at dawn for a short time. It’s a very good thing….

Officially a Drought

The National Weather Service has announced that New Hampshire is experiencing a moderate drought. We’ve had scant rainfall this spring. You might ask: Where’d all that record-setting snow melt go? I wondered, too.

The answer is two-fold: Our snow was ‘fluffy and dry’ according to Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts and the water content of our snow was low. Secondly, according to Michael Rawlins, an assistant professor of geosciences and a hydrology specialist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the small amount of water in the soil has evaporated. The upper surfaces of soil were saturated but with little precipitation, it’s gone.

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It’s been hot and dry at  my work place, Rolling Green Nursery, but just seven minutes of overhead watering first thing in the morning on the hottest days give perennials enough moisture until we can get a hose to them all.

The National Weather Service tells us that summer will bring extended dry conditions to southern portions of New Hampshire. Voluntary water restrictions are already being put into effect. Thankfully, we aren’t experiencing the dire conditions that western states are enduring but we’re having a small taste of it and the National Weather Service is predicting a dry summer for us in southern New Hampshire. Mild droughts are more common here than many realize and data tells us that droughts are expected to become more frequent as our climate changes.

However, our collective wish was answered yesterday when the heavens finally opened for a good part of the day. Today we have a soaking rain and tomorrow should bring the same. We will need a lot more though!

I took a walk around my own landscape this morning and saw some happy plants just soaking it in. There is nothing quite so beautiful as a life-sustaining rain. Hover over photo to ID plants or click to enlarge.