New Book Aims to Protect and Restore Fish Migrations

Rivers are a critical natural resource and an essential element for the health and survival of billions of people and countless species. Flourishing populations of migratory fish are an important indicator of a healthy, coastally connected river and a robust aquatic ecosystem as a whole. Migratory fish help to maintain a balanced food web, support productive river systems, and provide income for people around the world.

Yet many migratory fish species are severely threatened primarily due to man-made obstacles like dams and weirs, which disrupt the natural flow of rivers and prevent fish migration. When fish can’t reach their habitat, they can’t reproduce and maintain their populations.

Photo Credit: “From Sea to Source 2.0”

A new book, titled From Sea to Source 2.0, explores the challenges that lie behind restoration of fish migration in rivers around the world and provides a practical guide to promoting the protection and restoration of fish migration. The book is a unique collaboration of over 100 international fisheries professionals and supported by river managers, governments, research institutes and NGOs including World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Geared toward practitioners, but also a wonderful resource for the general public, the book is comprised of inspiring stories from nearly every continent on the planet. Click here to download it for free.

“Ultimately our ambition is to contribute in a positive way to making a better world and a positive difference for migratory fish, nature and humans on local and global levels by inspiring new initiatives for and with people all around the world,” as stated on www.fromseatosource.com. “Whether the challenge is simply to increase access to spawning habitats through connectivity improvements for salmon, or to maintain the livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people dependent upon fish and fisheries in the great rivers of Asia, Africa and South America, we hoped our book would help to achieve these goals.”

Princeton Hydro’s Dam Removal Expert Laura Wildman, P.E. and Fluvial Geomorphologist Paul Woodworth are proud contributors to the book, helping to write the dam removal chapter, creating a dam removal flow chart for the book, and providing multiple photos utilized in the book. Princeton Hydro is also listed as a contributing sponsor.

“We’re so proud to be part of this incredible project with so many partners globally,” said Wildman. “We envision that this book will provide a valuable resource and inspiration for those in countries and regions where the importance of restoring riverine connectivity is newly gaining momentum. We hope it will help emphasize the importance of finding balanced and environmentally informed solutions when proposing additional utilization of public trust resources such as rivers.”

Approximately 40% of all fish species in the world reside in freshwater ecosystems, contributing economic and ecological benefits and value. It’s critical that we support efforts that aim to protect migratory fish species, reconnect rivers, sustain fish passage, and preserve free-flowing rivers through removing unnecessary dams, reconnecting floodplains, managing our water use, and managing hydropower for sustainable rivers.

Education and awareness building are key first steps in protecting rivers. From Sea to Source 2.0 seeks to inform, educate and inspire those who want to know more about how to meet the challenges of restoring fish migration in rivers around the world.  The book is regarded as a crucial resource in the ongoing fight to protect and preserve the enormous value of our waterways.

Get your free copy here.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of a dozens of small and large dams in the Northeast. To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.

Conservation Spotlight: Restoring Fish Passage on the Noroton River

For thousands of years, river herring swam from the Atlantic Ocean through the Long Island Sound and up the Noroton River to spawn each spring. Then, they returned to the ocean until the next spawning season.

Back in the 1920s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration began connecting the country through a massive interstate highway system. As part of the infrastructure plan, hundreds of thousands of culverts were built across the U.S. with the intention of moving water quickly and efficiently. While that goal was met, many migratory fish and other aquatic organisms could not overcome the culverts’ high-velocity flows, shallow water depths, and perched outlets. This infrastructure prevented them from reaching their native migratory destinations.

By the late 1950s, Interstate 95 cut through Connecticut’s coastal rivers, and culverts were installed to convey river flows. Alewives, American Shad, Blueback Herring, and other native fish species were unable to navigate the culverts. Their populations dwindled to the point where Connecticut, along with Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, instituted moratoriums on catching and keeping the valued forage fish.

Along the Noroton River, three parallel concrete culverts, each 300-feet long, 13-feet wide and 7-feet in height were installed, completely blocking upstream fish passage.  In order to restore important fish populations and revitalize the Noroton River, Save the Sound launched a project that reopened approximately seven miles of the river, allowing migratory fish populations to safely and easily travel through the culverts to reach their original spawning habitat upstream.

The project is a collaboration among Save the Sound, Darien Land Trust, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP), Connecticut Department of Transportation, Princeton Hydro, and other partners. For the project, Princeton Hydro lead design engineering and guided the construction of the following elements to restore upstream fish passage:

  • The installation of a concrete weir at the upstream end of the culvert to increase water depths in one culvert during low-flow periods;
  • The installation of concrete baffles to reduce flow velocities and create resting places for fish, and;
  • The installation of a naturalized, step-pool, rock ramp at the downstream end of the project to allow fish to ascend into the culvert gradually, overcoming the two-foot vertical drop present under existing conditions. The rock ramp consists of a grouted riverstone base with large grouted boulders arranged to make steps, with low-flow passage channels, between a series of pools approximately 1-foot deep that create resting places for upstream migrating fish.

Reopening river passage for migratory species will improve not only the health of the Noroton River itself, but will also benefit the overall ecosystem of Long Island Sound. Over the last decade, fish passage projects around the sound’s Connecticut and New York shores have dramatically increased freshwater spawning habitat for the foundational species whose return is restoring a more vibrant food web to the Long Island Sound.

Construction of the baffles and rock ramp were completed in time for the 2018 migratory season. Construction of the concrete weir is on temporary hold for low-flow conditions. On April 26, 2018, project partners gathered for a project celebration and the release of migratory fish by CTDEEP at an upstream location.

“It’s fascinating to feel the change in the flow patterns against your legs as you walk through the baffled culvert knowing that it will now facilitate fish passage through this restored reach,” said Princeton Hydro’s New England Regional Office Director and Water Resources and Fisheries Engineer Laura Wildman, P.E. “It is a very attractive and natural-looking fishway, and we’re proud to have created a design that fits so well into the surrounding landscape.”

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of a dozens of small and large dams in the Northeast.  To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.

AQUATIC ORGANISM PASSAGE: A PRINCETON HYDRO BLOG SERIES

Welcome to the second installment of Princeton Hydro’s multi-part blog series about aquatic organism passage.

What you’ll learn:

  • How does promoting aquatic organism passage benefit ecosystems as a whole?
  • How can others, including people, benefit from aquatic organism passage?
  • How has Princeton Hydro supported it?

Photo by Princeton Hydro Founder Steve Souza

Fostering Ecological Balance in Food Webs

A major consequence of poorly designed culverts published in the NRCS' "Federal Stream Corridor Restoration Handbook"is the destabilization of food webs. Sufficient predators and prey must exist to maintain a balanced food web. For example, freshwater mussels (Unionidae) are a common snack among fish. A mussel’s life cycle involves using certain fish as a host for their larvae until these microscopic juveniles mature into their adult forms and drop off. During this period, the host fish will travel, effectively transporting a future food source with it.

In the presence of habitat fragmentation, the isolation of these symbiotic relationships can be devastating. Some mussel species rely on a small circle of fish species as their hosts, and conversely, some fish species rely on specific mussel species as their food. If a fish species is separated from its mussel partner, food shortages owing to a declining adult mussel population can occur.

Widespread Benefits to Flora, Fauna, and People

A shift in the 1980s recognized the importance of redesigning road-stream crossings for several reasons, including restoring aquatic organism passage and maintaining flood resiliency. Replacing culverts with larger structures that better facilitate the movement of both water and aquatic organisms benefit all species. Roads constructed over streams allow people to travel across natural landscapes while culverts that are fish-friendly convey water at a rate similar to the surrounding landscape, reducing scour in stream beds.

A man fly fishes as his dog sits by his side at Ken Lockwood Gorge, Hunterdon County. Photo from State of New Jersey website.

Fish, as well as semi-terrestrial organisms like crabs and salamanders, can take advantage of more natural stream environments and complete their migrations. Anglers appreciate healthy, plentiful fish populations nearly as much as the fish themselves. Recreation and economic growth also improve when streams regain the aquatic biological communities once lost through habitat fragmentation. According to USFWS, for every dollar spent on restoration through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Coastal Program Restoration Project, states gain $1.90 of economic activity. Stream restoration improves fish and wildlife habitat, which directly supports and enhances recreation opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts thus resulting in increased tourism-related spending and job growth.

Aquatic Organism Passage in Action at Princeton Hydro

Princeton Hydro recently completed a project to facilitate aquatic organism passage for river herring in Red Brook in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Read all about it here!

For an introduction to aquatic organism passage, be sure to check out the first post in this multipart-series.

Sources:

“Aquatic Organism Passage through Bridges and Culverts.” Flow. Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Watershed Management Division, 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

Hoffman, R.L., Dunham, J.B., and Hansen, B.P., eds., 2012, Aquatic organism passage at road-stream crossings— Synthesis and guidelines for effectiveness monitoring: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012-1090, 64 p.

Jackson, S., 2003. “Design and Construction of Aquatic Organism Passage at Road-Stream Crossings: Ecological Considerations in the Design of River and Stream Crossings.” 20-29 International Conference of Ecology and Transportation, Lake Placid, New York.

Kilgore, Roger T., Bergendahl, Bart S., and Hotchkiss, Rollin H. Publication No. FHWAHIF-11-008 HEC-26. Culvert Design for Aquatic Organism Passage Hydraulic Engineering Circular Number 26. October 2010.

Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Freshwater Mussels of Michigan. Michigan State University, 2005.

 

Aquatic Organism Passage: A Princeton Hydro Blog Series

Introducing part one of a multi-part blog series about aquatic organism passage
What you’ll learn:
  • What is aquatic organism passage?
  • Why is it important?
  • How does Princeton Hydro support it?

This photo from NYS DEC demonstrates a well-designed stream crossing.

Since the US government began allotting funds for building roads in U.S. national forests in the late 1920s, hundreds of thousands of culverts were built across the country. Culverts, or drainage structures that convey water underneath a barrier such as a road or railroad, were originally built with the intention of moving water quickly and efficiently. While this goal was met, many migratory fish and other aquatic organisms could not overcome the culverts’ high-velocity flows, sending them away from their migratory destinations. If the culvert was perched, or elevated above the water surface, it would require the migratory aquatic animals to both leap upwards and fight the unnaturally fast stream current to continue their journeys. Additionally, turbulence, low flows, and debris challenged the movement of aquatic organisms.

Thus, the goal of aquatic organism passage (AOP) is to maintain connectivity by allowing aquatic organisms to migrate upstream or downstream under roads. AOP “has a profound influence on the movement, distribution and abundance of populations of aquatic species in rivers and streams”. These aforementioned species include “fish, aquatic reptiles and amphibians, and the insects that live in the stream bed and are the food source for fish”.

This photo from NYS DEC demonstrates a poorly-designed stream crossing.

A poorly designed culvert can harm fish populations in multiple ways. If sturgeon aren’t able to surpass it, habitat fragmentation prevails. And so, a once-connected habitat for thousands of sturgeon breaks into isolated areas where a few hundred now live. When the population was in the thousands, a disease that wiped out 80% of the population would still leave a viable number of individuals left to survive and mate; a population of a few hundred will be severely hurt by such an event. In sum, habitat fragmentation raises the risk of local extinction (extirpation) as well as extinction in general.

The splintering of a large population into several smaller ones can also leave species more vulnerable to invasive species. Generally, the greater the biodiversity harbored in a population, the stronger its response will be against a disturbance. A dwindling community of a few hundred herring will likely succumb to an invasive who preys on it while a larger, more robust community of a few thousand herring has a greater chance of containing some individuals who can outcompete the invasive.

Aquatic Organism Passage in Action at Princeton Hydro

Princeton Hydro recently teamed up with Trout Unlimited to reconnect streams within a prized central-Pennsylvanian trout fishery.  Our team enabled aquatic organism passage by replacing two culverts in Pennsylvania’s Cross Fork Creek. Read about it here!

Sources:

“Aquatic Organism Passage through Bridges and Culverts.” Flow. Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Watershed Management Division, 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

Hoffman, R.L., Dunham, J.B., and Hansen, B.P., eds., 2012, Aquatic organism passage at road-stream crossings— Synthesis and guidelines for effectiveness monitoring: US Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012-1090, 64p.

Jackson, S., 2003. “Design and Construction of Aquatic Organism Passage at Road-Stream Crossings: Ecological Considerations in the Design of River and Stream Crossings.” 20-29 International Conference of Ecology and Transportation, Lake Placid, New York.

Kilgore, Roger T., Bergendahl, Bart S., and Hotchkiss, Rollin H. Publication No. FHWAHIF-11-008 HEC-26. Culvert Design for Aquatic Organism Passage Hydraulic Engineering Circular Number 26. October 2010.

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.