A Washington-based environmental group has been given $4 million in federal economic-stimulus funds to remove two old dams on the Patapsco River that make it difficult for fish and boaters to pass.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday that it has awarded a grant to American Rivers to dismantle Simkins and Union dams, two of four dams obstructing the flow of the Lower Patapsco.


Built in the late 1800s and early 1900s to power mills that have long since been closed, the dams hinder fish migration and pose safety risks for people using the river as it flows past Ellicott City, Catonsville and Elkridge on its way to Baltimore harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.

Serena McClain of American Rivers said work is expected to begin this summer on removing Union Dam in the Hollofield area of Patapsco Valley State Park off U.S. 40. The 24-foot-high structure was breached by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, McClain said, but remains a hazard for inexperienced paddlers and an impediment for fish because of the velocity of water that can pour through the opening in the dam.


Simkins Dam, at the site of a cardboard recycling plant devastated by fire several years ago, has a fish ladder meant to help alewives, blueback herring and other fish get upstream to spawn in the spring. But McClain said the publicly funded fish passage has been difficult to maintain and clogs frequently with debris.

Advocates hope the dams' removal will improve the Patapsco's water quality by boosting the population of freshwater mussels that naturally filter the water.

The grant, one of 50 awarded by NOAA as it distributes economic-stimulus funds, will help support about 42 jobs in the planning and removal of the dams over the coming year, according to American Rivers.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is studying removal of a third obstruction, Bloede Dam, where swimmers have drowned in the past.