Dam Removal Under Study for Shunock River

The Nature Conservancy
Tuesday, 1 June 2004

As part of a plan to restore the Shunock River as habitat for migratory fish, the Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) is studying the possibility of removing the dam at Parke Pond on the Shunock River -- one of four proposed projects aimed at opening the Shunock River to passage by diadromous fish.

The pond and 140-year-old dam are located on property owned by Pearl Anderson Micheli of Eureka, California, granddaughter of North Stonington millowner Burroughs Ripley Park. Mrs. Micheli has agreed to donate the dam site to The Nature Conservancy, a partner in the restoration project along with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

The project was originally proposed as a fish ladder construction project that would have allowed diadromous fish-- species that travel between freshwaters and saltwaters of a watershed as part of their reproductive cycle-- to pass around the impoundment to reach upstream waters. However an assessment of the condition of the dam revealed that repairs far exceeding available funds would be required. "We agreed to work toward removal of the dam," said Kevin Essington, director of The Nature Conservancy's Pawcatuck Borderlands Project, "both because of its condition, and because we all wanted to restore the Shunock to its historic condition as a free-flowing river."

Lori Urso, executive director of WPWA, which will serve as lead agency on the restoration project, says the organization has agreed to partner with The Nature Conservancy on the project because fishery restoration is a priority of the agency. "The dam at Parke Pond was installed years ago for industrial and agricultural purposes," Urso said. "With those uses long past, it makes sense to restore the river to its original free-flowing state given the opportunity. Construction of a fish ladder is more costly and generally less successful in restoring the fishway than removal of an impoundment."

WPWA board member and fisheries scientist Dr. Saul Saila suggests the restoration by dam removal will eventually result in a variety of positive environmental and physical changes to the ecosystem. Saila, professor emeritus from the University of RI, and a renowned expert in
fisheries management, has received lifetime honors from the American Fisheries Society and numerous other academic institutions and industry agencies.

"A dam has a variety of effects on a river, including changing its flow rate, temperature, and water clarity and quality, to say nothing of creating a barrier to its inhabitants," said Dr. Saila. "In a free-flowing river, fish like brook trout grow larger and travel more widely, and that's just one species. A free-flowing river also has a more diverse population of invertebrates, which are a food source for larger animals, along its whole length."

WPWA and project partners hope to complete the necessary studies associated with the restoration project and to obtain the necessary permits and funding to begin this project by the summer of 2005. The project cost is estimated at $230,000. The partnership is applying for restoration funds under the Community-based Restoration Program (CRP), a cooperative grant from NOAA and The Nature Conservancy. CRP is a financial and technical assistance program within the NOAA Fisheries Office of Habitat Conservation that promotes strong partnerships at the national, regional and local level to fund grassroots, community-based activities. The NOAA-funded projects provide strong on-the-ground habitat restoration components that offer educational and social benefits for people and their communities, in addition to long-term ecological benefits for fishery resources.

The Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) was established in 1983 to promote and protect the land and waters of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed. For additional information call 401-539-9017 or visit www.wpwa.org.

For more information, or to contact The Nature Conservancy, see their website at: www.nature.org

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