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AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- It's been 15 years since the removal of the Edwards Dam, and the water and wildlife of the Kennebec River has changed dramatically.

On July 1, 1999, the 900-foot dam breached, restoring a free-flowing Kennebec River for the first time in 160 years.

"What you can really feel is the river breathes now," said Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The Kennebec now has the largest run of alewives and blueback herring on the eastern seaboard.

When inland and ocean waters can reconnect, fish such as alewives can have a big impact, Bennett said.

"Those fish species are incredibly important food species for cod, halibut, for these species of fish that are really hurting right now in the Gulf of Maine," said Bennett.

He said the bird population has grown along the Kennebec as well, pointing to several osprey seen flying where the old dam used to be.

Maine now has 630 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles, compared to 20 pairs in 1967. Along the five-mile stretch of the Sebasticook River, leading from the Kennebec to the Benton Falls fish lift, there has been 58 Bald Eagles counted in a single day (June 6, 2014).

Bennett said there are thousands of dams in Maine, and many of them generate little power, if any at all. He said he would like to see more of them removed, but it can be expensive, and many dam owners don't want to do it.

"It's pretty dam specific," said Bennett. "People get attached to their dams, and they don't want them out under any circumstances."

He points to the removal of the Veazie Dam last year as an example of public support for river restoration.

"We'll likely see the same thing happen in the Penobscot," he said. "It will take a little time, but that's our next big explosion of life."

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