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Dam-busting fish can spawn freely

In a historic decision that has cheered environmentalists across the nation, the United States government has refused to renew the licence of a large river dam in Maine and ordered it to be destroyed to make way for spawning fish.

It marks the first time in US history that federal authorities have opted to dismantle a functioning hydro-electric dam in favour of returning rivers to species of fish.

The implications for the hydro-electric industry nation-wide could be considerable. There are more than 500 other dams up for relicensing in the US; many are in the Pacific North-west and have been objects of campaigns by environmentalists.

The 900-foot-long Edwards Dam, outside the city of Augusta, in southern Maine, is 160 years old. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that it should be removed to open a 19-mile stretch of the Kennebec River for salmon, bass and sturgeon entering from the ocean in search of spawning grounds.

"I think people are beginning to realise that a dam is not necessarily a permanent feature of the landscape," commented Alexander Hoar, a director at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The owners of the dam, which provides only 1 percent of Maine's electricity supply, have one year to come forward with a plan for the structure's demolition. However, they are almost certain to appeal against the order.