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The Impact of Dams & Their Removal on Water Quality In the Westfield River Watershed

The Westfield River begins in the Berkshires, flowing southward through 29 communities until it enters the Connecticut River located in Agawam, MA. Around 80 miles of the Westfield River’s main branches are designated as a National Wild & Scenic River but the watershed includes 517 square miles of rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. The Westfield River provides critical habitat for wildlife including rare species, it’s also one of the best cold water fisheries in the Commonwealth. Westfield’s watershed consists of about 45 standing dams, many of which are in disrepair.  When a dam gets removed, it results in the sediment buildup behind it to wash downstream with the water. If this sediment buildup contains an abundance of contaminants, then those will also end up downstream.  Dams are also a major barrier for migratory aquatic life, mostly fish species which are extremely important in the food web as food sources for both wildlife and humans. We want to see how different the water quality will test before and after a standing dam compared to water at a previously removed dam.  At 8 locations in the Westfield River Watershed, we will be testing for phosphate, nitrate, PH, dissolved CO2, dissolved O2, temperature, ammonia, and conductivity in measured ppm. We expect to find more contamination in our testing sites above the dams than below or at locations where dams that have been removed. Our primary research question is: Are there higher levels of aquatic contaminants at standing dams than at removed dams?

Casey Moore '23, Whitney Scott '23,
Evan Khordoc '23   
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