The Return of the American Shad to the Musconetcong River

PHOTO/New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist Pat Hamilton holds a shad near the Warren Glen Dam

After a 250+ year absence, American shad have returned to the Musconetcong River in Hunterdon and Warren counties. This milestone in the ecological recovery of the river is the result of the removal of dams on the lower Musconetcong several years ago, followed by the removal of the Hughesville Dam in Warren County last year.

Removing the dams opened nearly six miles of the Musconetcong to migratory fish, such as American shad, that spend much of their lives in the ocean but return to rivers and their tributaries to spawn. The shad’s return is a good sign of the overall ecological health and diversity of the river.

Princeton Hydro was proud to partner with the Musconetcong Watershed Association and so many other incredible organizations who came together on the Hughesville Dam Removal project. To date, Princeton Hydro has investigated, designed and permitted five dam removals on the Musconetcong.

The next Musconetcong dam targeted for removal is the 32-foot high Warren Glen Dam, less than a mile farther upstream. It is the largest dam in the river; by comparison, the Hughesville Dam was 15-feet tall.

Princeton Hydro President Geoff Goll, P.E. published this commentary piece titled, “The Return of the American Shad to the Musconetcong River:”

Update (June 15, 2017)NJDEP issued press release on the finding of American shad on the Musky. Bob Shin, NJDEP Commissioner, stated, “[t]he return of shad, a benchmark species indicative of the overall ecological health and diversity of a waterway, is an exciting milestone…. This achievement is the direct result of an ongoing partnership among state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups, and dam owners – all committed to making this beautiful waterway free-flowing again.

On June 7, 2017, Princeton Hydro celebrated along with the Musconetcong Watershed Association (and an excellent story of the MWA, human history of the river, and the efforts to preserve the history and ecology can be found here) and other project partners, the discovery of American shad on the Musconetcong River in NJ, over 250 years after they were blocked from this major tributary of the Delaware River – On September 8, 2016, then Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, held a press conference to celebrate the initial breach of the Hughesville Dam on the Musconetcong River (time lapse of removal is here). The press conference was held as the Department of the Interior via of the US Fish and Wildlife Service provided the funding to remove this obsolete structure through their Hurricane Sandy Recovery funding and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program. In addition to the Honorable Sally Jewell, NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin, and US Army Corp of Engineers, Philadelphia District Commander Lt. Colonel Michael Bliss, were also on hand to speak about the importance of the Hughesville Dam removal and dam removal in general. To have such dignitaries at the highest levels of our Federal and State government speak at a project our firm designed was truly an honor and privilege. It was a great day to celebrate the next obsolete dam on the Musconetcong River to fall to the progress of river restoration. However, this would pale in comparison to the news we received on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, when the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife confirmed the presence of the American shad (Alosa sapidissima) above the Hughesville Dam!

Ms. Patricia Hamilton, Fisheries Biologist of NJ Fish And Wildlife, reported that they “spotted small schools of American Shad (at most 6 at a time) and captured 4 several hundred yards downstream of the Warren Glen Dam”, five miles from the confluence of the Delaware River. This is the first documentation of American shad on this river in over 250 years! So, what is the big deal you may ask.

The American shad is the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States’ salmon; it is actually a clupeid, a forage type fish closely related to herrings and sardines. Like herrings and sardines, they are a very oily fish, high in omega-3 fats, and low in contamination. It is also a fairly large clupeid, reaching three to eight pounds as adults. Like the salmon, American shad are anadromous, meaning they live the major part of their lives in the ocean and spawn up the coasts’ rivers. The American shad is not a spectacularly looking fish to say the least, and in fact, looks like a “generic” illustration of a fish, unlike the sleek and sexy salmon. It doesn’t even jump. However, this fish is a long distance and endurance swimmer, who’s migration from its hatching in rivers of the East Coast to its primary habitat in the Atlantic Ocean up in the Gulf of Maine, makes it one of the Earth’s great travelers. It can swim nearly 20,000 kilometers in its first five years of life and can dive to depths of up to 375 meters. And like all of its clupeid kindred, it is both a key prey species for many large fish and cetaceans in the Atlantic’s pelagic zone (open ocean) and an important commercial fish. But it is the existence of over-fishing, pollution and dams that had brought this species to its knees in many of the major eastern US rivers.

While the Delaware River shad and herring species have rebounded somewhat from low populations in the mid-1900s with the advent of the US Clean Water Act, they continue to struggle to regain their numbers, and in fact, there is now a moratorium on catching river herring in the Delaware River, and NJ has a moratorium on the harvesting of shad and herring on its tributaries to the Delaware River and Atlantic Ocean. As far as tributary access is concerned, the largest tributaries to the Delaware, the Schuylkill and Lehigh Rivers, are still blocked by dams to their mouths with very little efficiency of fish ladders provided; with their dams having very little success in gaining support for the removal of their blockages. So, any gains in additional spawning habitat for such anadromous species is viewed as a significant victory. The opening of the Musconetcong River to migrating fish will be a large contributor to the rebound of American shad, and other river herring species.

As one of the original 13 colonies, NJ was an integral partner in the start of the United States and early industrial revolution. It has been documented through our research during the dam removal regulatory permit application process on this waterway that the Musconetcong River has been dammed just about all the way to its confluence with the Delaware River since the mid-1700s, and likely much earlier. So, before there was anyone who understood the importance of unimpeded rivers for fish migration, this particular route was cut-off in its entirety, and then remained so for well over 250 years. So, it is understandable that there was no reason to assume that anadromous fish, such as shad, would resume the use of the river in a short period of time; however, there existed the right habitat for them, should they be afforded access…and the hope of the partners working on this river. There were doubters, to be sure, but “lo and behold”, we now know these mighty fish took advantage of an opening almost immediately.

Now, I am not stating that American shad immediately realized that the Hughesville Dam was gone and took a B-line from the Delaware River to the highest unimpeded location. First, other dams downstream of the Hughesville Dam had been removed over the past several years. These dams included the Finesville Dam (for an excellent video of the story of this dam removal, check out this video by the US Fish and Wildlife Service), removed in 2011 and the Reigelsville Dam remnants (there were two additional remnants found when the first foundation was removed) soon after the Finesville Dam was removed. So, it is likely that American Shad had started moving up the river to the base of the Hughesville Dam between 2011 and 2016. Still the response by American shad is nothing short of spectacular. For the over 250 years this species has not been able to use this river, at all, and now, within a span less than six years of dam removal activities, this fish is raring to comeback and, hopefully, spawn and increase their numbers.

And the efforts are not nearly complete for the Musconetcong River. The finding of the American shad five miles upstream from the Delaware River shows that this river can and, now, does support this fish. This generic looking fish, yet awesome product of evolution should only fuel the fire of continued restoration efforts, proof-positive that the labor and funds spent here, in this river, gets results. Such funds and labor (an staggering amount of time, blood, sweat, and tears) are required in order to get the river restoration work done. These projects have received the majority of their backing from the federal government, through grant programs, natural resource damage funds, and direct Congressional authorized funds. Without support from Washington, D.C.,, and Trenton, none of this work would be possible. And to get these funds, required work by the many team partners to prepare applications, meet with federal agencies, and educate the public through open and transparent meetings and communication. This was an impressive effort by the residents of this watershed, professionals who provided their expertise, and the state and federal employees who have dedicated their lives to this kind of work.

The Musconetcong River, with its recovering ecosystem, and its human and non-human inhabitants continue to amaze me in how we should all strive to strike balance between man and nature; and all this is being accomplished in the most densely populated state in the nation.

The finding of American shad gives me reason to cheer, and is why I do what I do. This is it, the return of a species that at one time we had no assurance would return, has returned. This is hope for us, after all.

Read more about Princeton Hydro’s river restoration and dam/barrier services on our website. Please contact us anytime if you have a project you’d like to discuss.

Earth Day Donation Drive:

“Follow Us” to Raise Money for American Rivers

In celebration of Earth Day, help Princeton Hydro donate to American Rivers!

For every new follower we collect on any of our social media channels between now and Earth Day (April 22, 2017), we’ll donate $.50 to American Rivers, an organization dedicated to protecting our precious water resources. Donations help to restore dammed rivers, protect wild rivers and revitalize river communities.

Support American Rivers by following our social media channels and spreading the word. You can find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

The Plight of Aging Dams, and One Solution

As dams age, the danger to life and property around them increases. If they were to suddenly fail and flood downstream communities and infrastructure, there would be serious loss of property and life. More and more, dam removal has become the best option for property owners who no longer want or can no longer afford the rising cost of maintenance and repair work required to maintain such a complex structure.

The Courier-Post recently published this Commentary piece titled, “The Plight of Aging Dams, and One Solution”, which was written by Princeton Hydro’s Vice President and Principal Engineer Geoffrey M. Goll:

Many of our nation’s dams, while originally intended to provide benefits for mills, water supply and energy generation, are severely aged and unmaintained. Nearly 20,000 of the dams on the Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams – which doesn’t even include many dams that are not inventoried or known about – were built in the 1960s. With expected lifespans of 50 years, these dams have reached their limit. And by 2020, 70 percent of all dams will be over 50 years old. Like roads and bridges, dams also require upkeep, maintenance and eventually removal or rehabilitation.

As dams age, the danger to life and property around them increases. If they were to suddenly fail and flood downstream communities and infrastructure, there would be loss of property and life. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials, the professional organization for dam safety engineering professionals and regulators, estimates there would need to be a $21 billion investment to repair just 2,000 deficient, high-hazard dams. More and more, the removal of dams has become an option for owners who no longer want or no longer can afford the rising cost of maintenance and repair work required to maintain such a complex structure.

For dams like this, removal benefits local economies, and eliminates threats to people and property in local communities. There are also many byproduct benefits, including restoring fish migration routes, improving water quality, restoring floodplain functions and values, and increasing biodiversity.

On Sept. 8, we had the honor of meeting the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell during a visit of our Hughesville Dam removal project on the Musconetcong River, located in northwestern New Jersey. This project exemplifies the successes that can be achieved through public-private partnerships, including local communities, state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private commercial entities. This is the fifth dam removed on the Musconetcong River by a coalition of stakeholders, led by the Musconetcong Watershed Association. The Department of the Interior (specifically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) provided funding to remove this very old, out-of-compliance dam.

The success of these partnerships is due to the unique strengths that each organization brings to the table. This project achieved the removal of a flood and safety hazard, and will restore additional river miles for migratory fish, improve water quality by removing the heat sink of the reservoir, and provide additional safe passage for recreation along the river.

It is easy to see why Secretary Jewell chose this site to visit, but the old and outdated dam at Hughesville is far from alone. Across the nation, we need to remove dams like this at a much larger scale – aging dams that no longer are of value to us, but increase the danger to those who live downstream. If we can build on this momentum and start to address the issue of dam safety compliance on a national scale, we can address these threats to American’s safety and strengthen local economies.

Princeton Hydro’s Earth Day Photo Contest

The contest is now closed, and we have a winner!

A very big congratulations to Corie French and her stunning sunset photo. She wins a $50 gift card to Bambeco.com, a ton of bragging rights, and Princeton Hydro will donate $100 to American Rivers in her name. Way to go, Corie!

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the contest by submitting your photos and liking/commenting on your favorites!

2016-04-14

 

Contest Details and Original Contest Post:
Contest Alert!
Princeton Hydro is hosting a photo contest in honor of Earth Day. We want to see pictures of how you celebrate Mother Earth.
Here’s what you need to do to participate:
  • Grab your camera
  • Get outside and snap some shots of whatever you do to enjoy this lovely planet we live on
  • Choose the photo you feel best depicts “How you Celebrate Mother Earth”, and email it to: pHydroPhotoContest@gmail.com along with your name and a photo caption anytime between 4/9 – 4/21 (contest closes on 4/21 at midnight EST)
  • We’ll post your photo to the Princeton Hydro Facebook page, and then it’s your job to garner as many “Likes” for your photo as possible!
  • The photo that collects the most “Likes” within the contest timeframe wins a $50 gift card to Bambeco.com, a sustainable homegoods store, and Princeton Hydro will donate $100 to AmericanRivers.org in the winner’s name
  • “Likes” will be tallied and the winner will be announced on Earth Day, Friday, April 22
Get outside and get snapping!
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Habitat Fragmentation – Culvert Blockages and Solutions

Capture

Culvert that is “perched” due to scour by high velocity flows through the pipe. ©Princeton Hydro.

The Bucks County Chapter of Trout Unlimited (Pennsylvania) and the Cooks Creek Watershed Association were featured in the Summer 2013 edition of Trout magazine, TU’s national publication, for their culvert inventory work in the Cooks Creek watershed.  Princeton Hydro was glad to assist via directly investigating and training of volunteers to inspect and document potential culverts in need of retrofit.  Princeton Hydro also completed design concepts and opinion of costs for two example culverts.  Identified culverts in need of retrofit will help the creek’s wild brown and brook trout.  Princeton Hydro based the training on the Vermont guidelines for rating culverts for pass-ability.  In this small watershed a total of 97 culverts were identified with 32 of them as potential barriers, and 11 identified as “high priority” in need of retrofit.

Why worry about culverts, you say?

One of the most unforeseen danger to the biodiversity in our river networks is habitat fragmentation through un-passable culverts throughout the United States.  While blockages via dams number upward of 100,000 or so, the blockages created by ecologically and biologically inefficient culverts is likely to number in the millions.   The majority of these culverts are located in headwater areas of rivers, which entail greater than 50% of most river miles in a watershed; a large cumulative impact.  As a result, native key headwater species such as brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in the East and cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) in the West have had their historic ranges reduced to a fraction of their former extent.

Historically, culverts were designed by civil engineers to maximize flow capacity and minimize pipe size in order to create the most economical structure for developers, transportation authorities, and municipalities.  The unfortunate by-product of such a design approach is that water velocity through culverts is extremely high, often running in supercritical flow, even during base flow conditions, and the smooth and featureless surfaces in the structure make it extremely difficult to navigate.  To add insult to injury, the high velocity flows also scour and erode the stream channel immediately downstream of the culvert, leaving the pipe too high out of the new channel (“perched pipes”) for organisms to pass.  Downstream water dependent organisms cannot pass upstream to new habitat, and those populations upstream become extirpated due to downstream migration and mortality, and the lack of an ability to return or be replaced.  A study of impacts of fragmentation on brook trout is ongoing by the USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center (USGS CAFRC) and others, and a study recently completed documented the impacts of fragmentation of local populations provides an informative view of the blockage potential of culverted streams.

There is hope in the re-connection of stream habitat through new research and initiatives developed since 1999.  One such approach is through the Stream Simulation design originally developed in its present form at the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife and adopted by the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as others, and was also adopted shortly thereafter and refined by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Extension (Stream Continuity model) for use in Northeastern States (initially in the Massachusetts River and Stream Crossing Standards, and then adopted in similar form by surrounding states).  Through the Stream Simulation/Continuity method, a culvert is not simply measured in terms of hydraulic efficiency, but also in terms of ecological and biological efficiency.

In the most basic terms, Stream Simulation (Continuity) requires a crossing that has a minimum width of the bankfull flow of the natural channel upstream and downstream, plus more width to allow passage of terrestrial organism passage such as reptiles and amphibians (in the UMASS model the increase in width is 20% wider than bankfull, but in the current Washington State model they use 20% plus 2 feet).  The other part of the design requirement is an opening area to length ratio to allow the maximum amount of natural light penetration into the culvert (openess ratio), as many organisms, such as fish, are too intimidated to travel through dark culverts.  Other design requirements include the use of slopes and velocities that allow for fish passage, and roughness (i.e. placement of natural substrate) to also slow down the flow.

The key challenge for the retrofitting of culverts to be more passable is cost.  As with any civil engineering project, the larger it is, the more expensive.  To replace a 36 inch diameter culvert with a 10-14 foot wide structure could increase the cost by 10-fold.  However, there are ways in completing an economic analysis to justify the costs.  For example, most culverts were historically only designed to pass storms up to the 25-year event, but in even more cases, never were sized by engineers.  A larger culvert will increase its capacity and reduce overtopping events that would require road closings and worse, cause the roadway to collapse.  Road closings require emergency management and road crews to set up detours and slowing down commerce, or worse require repetitive reconstruction efforts that, over time, may exceed the cost of installing a Stream Simulation designed culvert.

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Same culvert as in photograph above, after the retrofit using Culvert Simulation. ©Princeton Hydro.

Other ways of encouraging installation of these larger and passable culverts is through the permitting process.  In New England, the US Army Corps of Engineers, allows for a by-pass of a formal review for their approval if the Stream Simulation guidelines are followed. This approach can save a significant amount of time to fast-track a retrofit.  To complement the Corps’ permit facilitation process, the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, have developed stream crossing guidelines to meet the Corps’ permit by rule compliance.  These states have even instituted state level regulations requiring aquatic organism passage via the Stream Simulation model.

Princeton Hydro was contracted to design a culvert retrofit to replace a 36 inch diameter culvert with a 12 foot wide arch culvert on a tributary of West Brook which is being monitored as part of the USGS CAFRC research project in Massachusetts.  This retrofit will be used to assess the increase in efficiency of headwater stream accessibility by local brook trout populations.

It would appear that the Stream Simulation or Continuity model is catching on, however, there needs to be more outreach and changes to existing rules in other regions of the US.  Further studies, such as that being conducted by USGS and their partners, will determine the true benefits of increasing culvert fish passage efficiency and bolster the economics of protecting fish populations for future generations.
——-
Geoffrey M. Goll, P.E.
Vice President and Founding Partner

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