Finally setting free that dammed river

The debate over the Ipswich River dam downtown — whether and when and how to take it out — has been going on forever. It’s time to settle this issue.

#1: Whether. “To dam, or not to dam, that is the question.” No, that’s not really the question. The dammed Ipswich River is artificially unhealthy. Wildlife on, in, and near the river will be happier without a dam.

#2: When. However we do it, we need to get rid of the dam sooner, not later, especially because of the confusion and corruption this debate will inflict on our youth. The next generation of Ipswich High School students will graduate thinking Damn Yankees is about the Ipswich River controversy because they won’t have theatre faculty to teach them about American stage classics.

#3: How. Aye, there’s the rub. It’s a big thing, this dam. And heavy. And it was originally built to be permanent. There are no easy-release clasps fastening the ends of the dam to the riverbank. How to dismantle it, destroy it, dispense with it? (Are there professional dam demolishers? Does “Junk Junk Baby” have an aquatic squad?)

However we get the job done, we won’t be alone. U.S. News reported recently that 57 dams were demolished in 2021 alone; and 1,951 total had been demolished as of February 2022, most of them in the past 25 years. (At the time of the report, U.S. regulators had just approved a plan to demolish four dams on a California river, which would be the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the world.)

I’ve heard that some folks in Ipswich have talked about resolving this dam situation by taking matters into their own hands, possibly even sneaking around after dark. Of course any illegal activity would be against the law; that’s why they call it illegal. So I don’t recommend any of the nefarious plans I’ve overheard.

(At the same time, however, I do believe in freedom of the press. How else could I get this stuff into the paper week after week? So I’ll just make it clear, here and now, that under no circumstances will I reveal my sources. You can arrest me, you can throw me into one of those pink-walled cells in the Ipswich jail, you can cut off my supply of Jennie-O honey roast turkey, but I will still never tell you where I got any of the following ideas.)

For example, it would be very noisy and messy to drop a bomb. I have no doubt some of our enterprising Ipswich residents could manage it — I’ve seen some absolutely awesome backyard fireworks displays. But delivering the bomb to the target would be one very risky aspect of the operation. An airplane is going to be expensive; also leasing a helicopter. You could use a drone, but you’re going to need a very large drone to carry this dam bomb.

Also, a bomb makes an explosion, and bits of the dam will go flying everywhere, and someone’s going to get their eye put out. It’s an insurance nightmare.

So no, bombing is out.

It might be possible to dig a hole through the dam, an underwater tunnel, to let the water through. Even a relatively small passageway would be a good start, and maybe all those pounds of water pressure would corrode the dam from the inside out, eventually causing the entire structure to implode. Of course, for this strategy we’d need people who are good at digging — historians come to mind. Also, we’d need historians with scuba experience. And waterproof jackhammers.

Maybe the surest way to get rid of the dam is just to turn it over to the Ipswich School Committee. They could announce that the dam is under-enrolled — inadequate numbers of herring in the fish ladder — and vote to collapse the thing. Unanimously.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, tuning his supersonic hearing aids to the latest town gossip. Track him at

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