3d Printing Helps Record Dam Removal

J.R. Logan

The one constant in nature is change, but sometimes that change is too slow to notice in any one visit. It is with this in mind that I started off on a mission to document the change over time at the Pond Lily Nature Preserve.


Pond Lily Dam (spillway) July 2014


The preserve is soon to undergo a great transformation. For more than 250 years a dam at the location blocked the free flow of the West River. Recently, through the work of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the funding of a resilience grant through the US Fish and Wildlife Service that dam will be removed sometime in 2015.  At first the change will be swift and dramatic. Construction staging will be setup, the river will be diverted to a temporary channel, earthwork and the careful teardown of the dam wall will proceed. When the deconstruction is done we will have a river which has been returned to a state that it has not been for centuries.


Rendering of Pond Lily after dam removal


The dam no longer serves any purpose. Previously, however, the dam had been one part of a system of waterworks directing the river water to turn water wheels which in turn powered the tools of many factories lining the West River. Our dam is a remnant of the Pond Lily factory which made textiles among other household items. The return of the river will not only help people by reducing flooding but this project will greatly benefit the fish. In addition to the unfettered access to their breeding grounds up stream these fish will benefit from cooler water temperatures in the running water and a greater abundance of foodsources  that thrive in the shallows of a natural river. This new section of river has been carefully designed to reproduce the characteristics of healthy, sustainable rivers.  It will have areas where the water runs fast and areas with boulders and eddies that provide resting spots for migrating fish.



The changes in the river will expose a significant area of land that was previously underwater. Plantings are planned for this area but it will take years for the process of succession to develop a stable complement of plants and animals at the site. This process will be driven by nature but interventions are planned to help suppress the inevitable aggressive invasive plants and provide an opportunity for a diversity of native plants to establish themselves.  

It is these slow changes over years that I wanted to capture. We plan to use the preserve for environmental education programing, and this period of change seemed to be something important to capture for future students and environmentalists. It will provide a detailed snapshot of change in the area's long history of transformations.

Monitorchange.org video on image correction   

The technical challenge is that time lapse camera equipment is expensive and requires maintenance to be in operation for years.  I was looking for a solution that would allow multiple perspectives to be documented and not involve expensive equipment that could be broken. That is when I happened upon a project by a group in California called Nerds for Nature. There had been a forest fire in their area and they set up camera bracket stations that people could use to take pictures from the same location and angle every time. Since so many people carry cell phones with cameras we can also get the general public to participate by submitting photos by email or social media.  Special photo editing software can then be used to correct for the different types of lens and produce a useful time lapse video. This was a system developed and champtioned by biologiests at the monitorchange.org website. Not only does the monitorchange.org approach solve the equipment issue but it is an opportunity to get more people involved in documenting and caring for the site.  Inspired by this approach, I decided I would deploy photo stations at Pond Lily.

As an active member of MakeHaven I could help but wonder how I might improve the design of the simple metal L bracket. I wanted something that was more visible and something which could include a ridge the further ensure the cameras are aimed in the same direction and angle. To accomplish this I turned to TinkerCad to build my 3d model and printed it out on a Makerbot Replicator 2 3d printer (pictured right). Holding the first print in my hands gave me several ideas for improvement so a second and third version were created.




Bracket Version 1 Design (model Files)


Bracket Version 2 Design - Lighter and allows mount to tree. (model files v2, v3 )


Actual 3d Printed Bracket. Spraypainted Red.

Version 2 Mounted on a 2x4.


Gwen and John of the Save the Sound/ CT Fund for the Environment were kind enough to help me install brackets at two test locations. One required we dig in a post to mount it but the second location had well placed tree to which we could secure the bracket.





I was quite pleased to be taking the first pictures from these locations. I will be back at a later date to trim some branches and open up the view but these first pictures give you a preview of a landscape that we will watch change of the next few years.



Photo Spot One Image

Photo Spot Two Image


I plan to use these locations to take a picture every few weeks but getting others involved creates the potential to capture more detail about site changes. The next step in the process is to hang signage (draft sign pictured below) that encourage the public to take pictures and share them with us. Crowdsourcing the project not only gets more pictures taken but it involves visitors to the preserve as citizen scientists.


They can take pride in that they will have contributed our understanding of nature by documenting this critical sliver of time in the river’s long history.

You can see what others have posted at: http://www.newhavenlandtrust.org/pond-lily-photos


J.R. Logan is Board Chairman of the New Haven Land Trust

Blog Date: 
Monday, July 21, 2014