Pawtucket Falls Dam Decision: Win-Lose Situation

The shame of the result in the court case about the future of the Pawtucket Falls Dam is the lack of trade-off and balancing of interests in the court’s decision. Enel is already generating green energy and making money on the hydro-power system, otherwise they would not be operating in Lowell. Why should they take their ball and go home if they can’t get everything they want from the river? I would want them to stay, lose or win. In order to make more money and power, they demanded (and got, it seems,) a permanent change in the appearance of one of Lowell’s most significant landmarks. It is a win-lose outcome, whereas the status quo situation would be a win-win for Enel and Lowell’s landscape and heritage. Not to mention the huge issue of water level control and its effect on Pawtucketville. Some people don’t like the look of naturally collapsing flashboards, I get it. But the sight of white water falling over the dam is part of Lowell’s appeal, something that helps set the city apart as a place to see.

Lowell, collectively, learned the hard way that preserving our story is wiser than tearing it down. Preservation has been an enormous benefit for Lowell. This did not have to be an either-or situation with Enel. I’m sure there are places where bladder dams make sense, but Pawtucket Falls is a special American place, and there is a compelling reason to preserve the way it looked when the national park legislation was passed. We would not expect someone to suggest replacing the Old North Bridge at Minute Man National Park in Concord with a new steel structure because it could hold more people or allow heavier vehicles to cross over. The look of the bridge is meaningful. People come from all over the world to see it. Pawtucket Falls is the reason for Lowell. Pawtucket Falls and the dam make a hinge of American history, the place where a mostly farming society began to change to an industrial society. You can point to the spot.

The key documents related to the court case and decision are available on the website of the Lowell Heritage Partnership,


2 Responses to Pawtucket Falls Dam Decision: Win-Lose Situation

  1. Chris says:

    Paul; would you link send a link with more information about the court case? Specifically I’m interested in Enel’s economic arguments.

    It seems they have had success in generating additonal revenue off of the Northern canal:

    “After acquiring the project, our operations and maintenance group was responsible for increasing revenue by nearly 20 percent through such measures as reconfiguring the tailrace and plant automation.”

    Does Enel / Boott Hydropower own all the canals or just the Northern? I know I have heard a number of complaints about the state of the Enel-owned bridge over the Northern canal by UML Residental North as well as maintenance of other canals. . .

    What I’m thinking is if the park does not like Enel; the city does not like Enel and Enel does not think the plant is profitable. . .I wonder if we [the city] could buy the plant.

    Yes, it does sound crazy but we like green power, we have done amazing things with aggregating power purchasing, the city uses ~100Mw and the Northern Canal puts out ~20Mw; we could cover 1/5 the city’s power needs with our own river. I can’t imagine that Enel’s costs to run the plant are higher then our wholesale power purchasing costs. . . which means it *could* be a win/win/win — we get cheaper green power directly, we maintain it the way we want and preserve it the way the park wants.

    Wouldn’t that be something? For the first time in Lowell history we would own our own waterways. . .

  2. Chris says:

    The ownership of the canals is complex, as different entities own different interests in the canals. For example, the recreational rights, waterpower rights, the canal walls, the bridges, and the canals themselves can all be owned by different entities. In a nutshell, Enel currently owns or controls some interest in all the canals and owns nearly all the bridges over the canals.