AUBURN — Increased recreational use along the Little Androscoggin River was the driving force for a flow study report Sunday on the Lower Barker Mill Dam in Auburn.

A group of five kayakers and two canoers tested two different flow levels, 590 and 300 cubic feet per second, beginning right below the dam and ending at Little Andy Park in New Auburn.

The boaters found that even the higher flow level is too low.

“The release levels are lower than what people would consider ideal,” said Ryan Galway, organizer and president of the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society. “The whole purpose of this is to evaluate what actually is here. Now after paddling it, I have a better idea.”

Galway’s vision involves creating a slalom course for a certain stretch of the Little Androscoggin.

Lewiston Economic and Community Development Director Lincoln Jeffers agrees that a slalom course would attract more boaters and spectators.

“It’s a small bit of water, and has limited capacity to hold a large number of boaters at any given time, but I could see it attracting people for an hour or two after work or on a weekend,” Jeffers said in an email.

As the boaters tested the flows down the river, another kayaker traversed the waters while people fished along the banks.

“Fifty years ago, this river was so polluted no one would touch it,” said Dave Wallace, a spectator and member of the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society.

Galway and the other boaters, along with much of the Lewiston-Auburn community, have also gotten behind increased recreation along the river. The Grow L+A Working River Group was established to advocate for greater opportunities on the river.

“We support the public flow tests for recreation,” said Peter Rubins, member of Grow L+A’s Working River Group. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing requires that the licensee must meet recreational and aesthetic needs of the community that surrounds them. Both cities have committed themselves to developing the rivers as their central hub of activity.”

After their second run, the boaters filled out surveys about the flows levels that will be sent to KEI Power Management Inc., the owners of the dam, and submitted as part of their application to the FERC for relicensing. The license for the Lower Barker Dam expires on Jan. 31, 2019.

“Depending on what we find here and our requests on what we want to see as far as flows at certain times of the year, then that might be a modification to what is currently in the license now,” Galway said.

Despite all the support, Lewis Loon, Hydroelectric operations manager and asset manager at KEI, believes that the results of this study are “very unlikely to have a significant effect on the application.”

“While the interest in providing whitewater boating opportunities at the project is understandable, the Little Androscoggin River simply does not have the flows of a larger river like the Kennebec or Penobscot,” Loon said in an email.

The Little Androscoggin has come a long way since 1972 when Maine Senator Edmund Muskie submitted his Clean Water Act. The Androscoggin and Little Androscoggin have seen the rise and fall of the mills and the establishment of cities around its banks. They have been assets for the community and the boaters who participated in the flow study hope to capitalize on the increasing recreational potential for Lewiston-Auburn.

“A river runs through us and joins us rather than separates,” Rubins said.


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