Getting fish upstream
Friday, February 15, 2013
Getting fish upstream
Updated 11:45 pm, Friday, February 15, 2013
By Bob Miller / News Times
There used to be native river herring that swam upstream in the Housatonic River and its tributaries.
Those paths if not gone, are severely checked. Dams, culverts and other man-made obstructions block their routes from saltwater to freshwater where they are born and where they return to spawn. That diminishes the river's biodiversity.
For that reason, and many others, river herring -- the collective name for alewives and blueback herring -- are in such decline that they may be listed on national Endangered Species lists.
But if humans can screw things up, they can also work to fix things, as least in a few ways.
Some of those ways will be discussed Tuesday at Kent Town Hall, when the next round of restoration projects for the Housatonic River gets public scrutiny. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.
The projects being discussed will spend that last $2 million of the $9 million fund set up for the Housatonic River restoration in Connecticut. General Electric Co. provided the money as part of its settlement for polluting the river with PCBs for several decades in the 20th century.
The restoration work is supervised by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In 2009 the officials of the restoration efforts made a series of grants to groups along the river, and the DEEP itself, for restoration of the banks of the river, for land acquisition and for recreation.
But Rick Jacobson, head of the DEEP wildlife division, said the restoration work did not allocate much money for aquatic restoration -- work to bring back the life within the river, not just along its edges. The projects Tuesday will add aquatic restoration to the mix.
Jacobson said that the big hydroelectric dams on the Housatonic are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The restoration work won't spend money at those sites.
But the projects include removing one dam on the Naugatuck River in Watertown and building a fish bypass route at a second dam in Seymour.
Another proposal has been made by the Housatonic Valley Association to analyze the culverts on many smaller streams and rivers that are tributaries to the Housatonic.
HVA executive director Lynn Werner said many of these culverts are old and outmoded. Some have shifted above the water course, and essentially don't carry any water except during spring floods. Others are broken. Others are blocked or filled with sediment.
All these problems can block migrating fish.
"There are also non-migrating fish that have to move to different sections of the river to spawn,'' Jacobson said.
The plan, Werner said, is to make a sort of registry of all the culverts on these streams, then feed them into a database and rank them in terms of their environmental importance.
If that happens, she said, town and state officials can evaluate any culvert replacement projects they're planning with an eye on the environment.
"If it was a matter of public safety, they'd have to fix that culvert right away,'' Werner said. "But all things being equal, they'd be able to replace the ones that are environmental problems. Over time, there would be progress.''
And maybe, more river herring.
"It could mean a more robust population,'' Jacobson said. "In the face of climate change, that's important.''