2011, pp 311-336

Hydropower, Salmon and the Penobscot River (Maine, USA): Pursuing Improved Environmental and Energy Outcomes Through Participatory Decision-Making and Basin-Scale Decision Context

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Abstract

The Penobscot River is the largest river within Maine and historically one of the most important rivers in New England for Atlantic salmon and other migratory fish. For more than a century, the economically and culturally important fish populations have been depressed dramatically due to hydropower dams on the mainstem river that prevented access to spawning habitat. In 2004, a broad coalition of stakeholders – including a hydropower company, the Penobscot Indian Nation, state and Federal agencies, and several conservation organizations – signed the Lower Penobscot River Comprehensive Settlement Accord. The Accord features two primary projected outcomes: a dramatic, ecologically significant increase in the proportion of the basin accessible to migratory fish combined with maintenance of, or potentially an increase in, energy generation. Increased access to migratory fish habitat will be accomplished through removal of two dams and construction of a naturalistic fish bypass around a third, while the energy generation lost due to dam removal will be recouped through structural and operational changes to remaining dams. Here we emphasize two essential conditions that made possible an agreement on the Penobscot that will benefit both energy generation and environmental and social interests. The first condition was the degree and type of stakeholder participation within the Penobscot’s decision-making context and the second is the spatial scale of the decision making – the entire system of dams on the lower river. The Penobscot Accord reflects the evolving role of stakeholders in hydropower decision making. Emulating the spatial scale of the Accord, which allowed the stakeholders to select from a broader range of alternatives to benefit both energy and the environment, will require further evolution of stakeholder involvement.