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.

NJ Audubon undertakes $470G study of climate change impact on wetlands

Princeton Hydro is proud to be a partner on this incredible project

If you’ve ever gone birdwatching at any east coast wildlife refuge, then you probably understand the value of coastal impoundments. These man-made wetland habitats are contained by embankments and have gates that allow managers to manipulate water levels. In addition to being valuable, these structures are also very vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather.

Through a $470,000 federal grant, the New Jersey Audubon is implementing an initiative to study the vulnerability of these impoundments to climate change induced environmental impacts. Funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior via the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Coastal Impoundment Vulnerability and Resilience Project (CIVRP) aims to map and catalog all state, federal, and privately owned coastal impoundments from Virginia to Maine. The project is a cooperative effort of a diverse team of partners including researchers from New Jersey Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, Conservation Management Institute (Virginia Tech), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Princeton Hydro.

The CIVRP will ultimately reduce climate vulnerability and enhance the natural ecosystem function of these precious and treasured wetland habitats. Read the full article from MyCentralJersey.

Princeton Hydro specializes in the restoration, creation and enhancement of tidal and freshwater wetlands. Contact us to learn more, and read about some of our award-winning wetland-related projects here.

Princeton Hydro Photo Contest

To celebrate Earth Week 2017, Princeton Hydro founder Steve Souza launched an internal company photo contest for which he asked everyone to submit their best photos of nature.

A panel of judges reviewed the photos through a blind judging process, narrowed it down to the top five, and ultimately chose a winner. Without further ado, we’d like to congratulate Michael Rehman for scoring the 1st place win! His “Barred Owl” photo won him a $100 gift certificate and lots of bragging rights.

So many great photos were submitted – we just had to share them! The photo album below includes Michael’s winning pic, the runners up, and a selection of photos submitted by each of the contest participants. Thanks to everyone who had a hand in the photo contest! Keep getting out there and enjoying nature!

Winning Photo "Barred Owl" by Michael Rehman

Winning Photo
“Barred Owl” by Michael Rehman

Read about Princeton Hydro’s 2016 Earth Day Photo Contest here.

6 Tips to Prepare Your Pond for Spring

It’s officially time to say good-bye to winter and “spring” your pond out of hibernation mode. We’ve put together six tips for getting your pond ready for Spring and ensuring it remains healthy all year long.

1. Spring Cleaning Your Pond

The first step in preparing your pond for Spring is to give it a thorough cleaning. Remove leaves, debris and any surface algae that may have accumulated over the winter. For shallow ponds, you may be able to use a net or pond rake to remove debris and sediment from the bottom and along the perimeter of the pond.

2. Inspect Your Pond for Damage

Inspect your pond, including berms, outlet structures and trash racks for any damage that may have occurred over winter due to ice. If you observe any damage, contact Princeton Hydro immediately. One of our engineers can determine if the damage is superficial or requires more significant repairs. Also, if your pond is equipped with an aeration system, before starting it up, contact us to schedule a system inspection. A thorough inspection and proper start-up procedure will ensure the system remains fully and effectively operational for the entire summer.

3. Put Your Pond to the Test

The routine testing of your pond’s water quality is an important part of preventing harmful algae growth, fish kills and other problems. Princeton Hydro professionals can conduct a “Spring start up” water quality analysis of your pond. The resulting data will enable us to develop pro-active, eco-friendly approaches to control nuisance aquatic species and promote environmental conditions supportive of a healthy and productive fishery.

4. Recognize and Reduce Erosion by Aquascaping the Shoreline

It’s important to check the pond’s shoreline for any signs of erosion, which can be easily stabilized by planting native, riparian plants. This is called “aquascaping”. Aquascaping is a great way to beautify the shoreline, stabilize erosion problems, create fish and amphibian habitat, attract pollinating species and song birds, and decrease mosquito breeding.

Our pond and wetland scientists can design and construct a beautiful, highly functional aquascaped shoreline for your pond.

5. Consider Installing an Aeration System

Sub-surface aeration systems eliminate stagnant water and keep your pond thoroughly mixed and properly circulated. Sub-surface aeration systems are the most cost-effective and energy-efficient way to maintain proper pond circulation. Proper aeration enhances fish habitat, minimizes the occurrence of algae blooms, and prevents mosquito breeding. Contact us to discuss if aeration is the right solution for you. If it is, we can design and install the appropriate system for your pond.

6. Have an Ecologically Balanced Pond Management Plan

There is more to pond management than weed and algae treatments alone. There is also a big difference between simple pond maintenance and ecologically-based pond management. A customized pond management plan developed by a Princeton Hydro professional is the “blueprint” you need to proactively care for your pond in a very environmentally responsible manner.

Our Certified Lake and Pond Managers will assess the status of your pond and provide you with an environmentally holistic management plan that is based on the unique physical, hydrologic, chemical and biological attributes of your pond. The plan will identify the causes of your pond’s problems and provide you with the guidance needed to correct these problems. The results are far more environmentally sustainable than simple (and often unnecessary) reactive weed and algae treatments.

⋅ ⋅ ⋅

These are just a few tips to get your pond ready for a new season of enjoyment. Princeton Hydro can help you every step of the way. Our success in caring for ponds, lakes and reservoirs is the result of starting with the right plan and applying customized, environmentally-sound management techniques. Please contact us to discuss your pond management needs and to schedule an assessment.

Tracking and Managing Harmful Algae Blooms

A Presentation by Princeton Hydro Founder Dr. Stephen Souza
Available for Free Download Here

The presentation covers all things related to identifying, addressing and preventing Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs), including:

  • Understanding what defines HABs, Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins
  • Dispelling common misconceptions about HABs
  • Educating on the health implications associated with HABs, specifically related to drinking water and recreational water usage
  • Learning about PARETM – Princeton Hydro’s unique strategy for addressing HABs
    • (P)redict – Forecasting a bloom
    • (A)nalyze – Measuring and quantifying a bloom
    • (R)eact – Implementing measures to prevent and control a bloom
    • (E)ducate – Providing community outreach and public education

To learn more about Princeton Hydro’s Invasive Weed and Algae Management Services, visit our website or contact us!

 

Success Spotlight: Strawbridge Lake

The Princeton Hydro team recently completed a spadderdock removal project at Strawbridge Lake, a 33-acre lake considered to be one of the most valuable open space assets in Moorestown, New Jersey.

Spadderdock is an invasive aquatic plant found in lakes and ponds throughout the Eastern US. It can grow quickly and reach large populations totally covering the water surface and shading the bottom so that nothing else can grow. Spadderdock can eliminate important, native plant species and clog waterways.

Princeton Hydro utilized its Truxor DM 5045, an eco-friendly amphibious machine, to dig up the plants at their roots and remove them from the lake. Check out the below before and after photos to see the dramatic transformation. Special kudos to our Senior Scientist J.P. Bell for a job well done! Read more about pesticide-free #lakemanagement solutions!

Client Spotlight: Roaring Brook Lake, Putnam Valley, NY

A Comprehensive Lake Management Plan Designed by Princeton Hydro

roaring-brook-lake Since 1998, Princeton Hydro has been working with the Town of Putnam Valley, often referred to as the Town of Lakes, to restore and maintain its waterbodies. The most recent area of focus is Roaring Brook Lake, a 115-acre man-made lake surrounded by a wooded landscape community that includes 260+ homes. The lake provides a variety of recreational opportunities for boaters, anglers, swimmers and outdoor lovers and is the center point of the Roaring Brook Lake District.

The Town of Putnam Valley and the Roaring Brook Lake District hired Princeton Hydro to conduct a thorough analysis of the lake’s ecological health, identify problems affecting the quality of the lake, and develop a detailed plan to improve and protect the lake. Specifically, Princeton Hydro will implement a detailed assessment of the lake that involves water quality monitoring, bathymetric mapping (measurement of lake depth and sediment thickness), aquatic plant surveys, and quantification of the lake’s hydrologic and pollutant budgets. These data will be utilized collectively to produce a comprehensive management plan for Roaring Brook Lake and its watershed.

Water Quality Monitoring

Water quality data are used to interpret the existing chemistry of the lake, identify water quality trends, pinpoint problems and assess nutrient levels.

At Roaring Brook Lake, Princeton Hydro will specifically collect in-situ data from the surface to the bottom of the water column. The resulting temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH and conductivity data will be used in combination with laboratory generated data to assess the lake’s thermal stability and investigate the potential for internal phosphorus loading. In addition, samples will be collected to identify phytoplankton and zooplankton in the lake; some of the plankton is considered a nuisance while others are considered valuable relative to the lake’s food web.

Bathymetric Assessment

The bathymetric assessment will generate accurate lake water depth, and provide sediment thickness and distribution data for the entire body of water. These data are then used to evaluate the need for dredging, asses how and where aquatic plants become colonized and other management options that can affect long-term decisions regarding the restoration and protection of Roaring Brook Lake. The bathymetric data are also used in the various trophic models that help predict the lake’s response to incoming nutrients.

Specifically, Princeton Hydro will utilize hydrographic surveying methods to conduct the bathymetric assessment of Roaring Brook Lake. A specialized dual frequency fathometer will be used to measure water depth and the thickness of the unconsolidated sediment present throughout the lake. The fathometer is directly tied into GPS, so data are consistently collected at the exact position of the survey transects. The GPS data and accompanying water depth data will be placed into a GIS format for the generation of morphometric data and bathymetric maps of the lake.

Aquatic Plant Mapping

Aquatic plants hold sediments in place, reduce erosion and provide habitat for fish and other important wildlife and insects. Although native aquatic plants are imperative to a lake’s health, an overabundance of these plants and the presence of invasive plants can have very negative impacts.

Princeton Hydro will be conducting a complete mapping of the aquatic plant community within Roaring Brook Lake to identify the plant species present in the lake, their relative abundance and location, and provide a basis for future evaluation of changes in the plant community. This data will greatly inform lake management activities moving forward. Additionally, with this data, Princeton Hydro will be able to assess the effectiveness of the resident grass carp – currently stocked in the lake – in keeping the submerged vegetation under control.

 

Hydrologic and Pollutant Budget

The hydrologic budget represents the water balance of a lake, accounting on an annual scale for all of the inputs and losses of water. The hydrologic data is used extensively in conducting trophic state analyses and is important in determining the feasibility and utility of many in-lake restoration techniques. At Roaring Brook Lake, Princeton Hydro will investigate and quantify four key components of the hydrologic budget, including direct precipitation, overland runoff (stormwater, snowmelt, etc.), tributary inflow and groundwater seepage.

Once the hydrologic budget is complete and land-use has been categorized and quantified, a pollutant budget can then be developed. The development of a detailed pollutant budget is a critical component of any lake management plan. For the purpose of the Roaring Brook Lake study, the term pollutant refers to the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus as well as total suspended solids. The pollutant budget represents a quantification of the input of pollutants from various sources to the lake. Because the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus present in the lake stimulates eutrophication and results in water quality impacts, proper quantification of the nutrient load is critical for the development of a site-specific and cost effective management plan.

Data Analysis

The data analysis for Roaring Brook Lake will focus on identifying an acceptable in-lake condition (i.e. specific level of algal biomass in the lake) and correlate this to the lake’s annual phosphorus load through a robust water quality model.

The data analysis will involve the review of both historical and current data and will be used to identify correlations and relationships between existing pollutant concentrations/loads and unacceptable water quality conditions (i.e. algal blooms, high rates of turbidity, nuisance densities of aquatic plants, etc.). Water quality thresholds and goals will be established for assessing the long-term progress of the lake management plan.

Lake Management Plan

roaring-brook-lake-1Properly managing your lakes and ponds starts with developing a customized management plan and involves a holistic approach to ensure continued success.

A good management plan is informed by substantial data collection and analysis (as described above); includes any necessary permit requirements and a proposed timetable for implementation; provides recommendations for priority ranking of particular activities and restoration measures; and discusses predicted benefits of the plan’s implementation and how each activity is linked to the established water quality goals. A well-crafted and thorough lake management plan will also include a review of the various Federal, State, County and local grants, programs and initiatives that may provide funding for the identified in-lake and watershed projects.

• • •

Princeton Hydro’s work with Roaring Brook Lake marks the 16th project they’ve conducted for the Town of Putnam Valley. Princeton Hydro’s proven success in watershed management stems from the cumulative training and experience of its staff, and its ability to develop watershed management solutions that are both practical and effective, which has led to the firm’s very high success rate in improving water quality.

If you’re interested in developing a customized, comprehensive management plan for your lake or pond, please contact us!

 

 

 

 

Natural VS. Artificial Lakes

In addition to deep versus shallow, waterbodies can also be compared and contrasted as naturally occurring or as the result of an artificial impoundment or reservoir. While there are a wide variety of natural lakes -from the glacial lakes of northern regions, to oxbow lakes adjacent to rivers, to coastal lakes that can be connected to the ocean – most of these natural systems have a number of common characteristics. Some of these include variable nutrient and sediment loading (from low to high, depending on the nature of the watershed) and low to moderate watershed-to-lake area ratios. In addition, natural waterbodies tend to have distinct and sometimes extensive littoral zone fringe habitat along the shoreline. Littoral habitat is the interface between the land and the open waters of a lake. Typically, rooted aquatic macrophytes (plants and mat algae) are found in the littoral zone, along with a number of aquatic organisms that use this habitat for food and/or cover. Thus, the littoral zone of lake is frequently the most productive areas of this ecosystem.

Graphic adapted from www.cues.cfans_umin.edu

Graphic adapted from www.cues.cfans_umin.edu

In contrast, large artificial impoundments, frequently called reservoirs, are waterbodies typically created by placing a dam across a stream or river (see below). This often results in the triangular shape of a reservoir; the deepest portion is located just behind the dam. Unlike many natural lakes that have a number of small inlet or inflow streams, a reservoir typically has one main inflow, which is essentially the river or stream that was originally dammed. Traveling upgradient from the dam towards the main inlet, water depth will decline. Additionally, many reservoirs are a type of hybrid of natural lakes and rivers. The upgradient/inflow part of the reservoir functions more like a riverine system, while the main body of the reservoir near the dam functions more like a lake (see below).

Graphic adapted from Reservoir Limnology: Ecological Perspectives, edited by K.W. Thornton, B.L. Kimmel and F.E. Payne, 1990

Graphic adapted from Reservoir Limnology: Ecological Perspectives, edited by K.W. Thornton, B.L. Kimmel and F.E. Payne, 1990

Since reservoirs are essentially dammed rivers, they tend to have very large watershed-to -lake area ratios, which means they tend to experience substantially higher nutrient and sediment loads compared to natural lakes. Thus, the level of productivity (algae growth) in the open waters of a reservoir is substantially higher than those of a natural lake. This means reservoirs have the tendency to experience larger and more frequent algal blooms. High rates of sediment loads also means rates of sedimentation will be higher in reservoirs compared to natural lakes. Finally, since the water level of reservoirs are highly dependent on inflow from the main riverine source, as well as water withdrawals in the case in drinking water supplies, the establishment of a littoral zone in reservoirs tends to be very limited.

In summary, a reservoir of comparable size to a natural lake will typically have a higher level of algal productivity, higher rates of sedimentation, and a smaller amount of biological diversity (with the general absence of a littoral zone). Thus, water quality problems can be larger and more frequent in reservoirs when compared to many natural lakes. Since many reservoirs are vital sources of potable water for millions of people throughout the United States, the general management activities for a reservoir tends to be higher relative to many natural lakes.

Join us next time, when we will discuss lake and pond productivity, the role the watershed plays in productivity, and how this impacts their recreational, potable and ecological value.