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Fish Passage on an Urban River

June 15, 2010Patrick NunnallyRivers, UncategorizedComments Off on Fish Passage on an Urban River

Too often, it seems, when humans establish urban habitat for themselves, there’s no room for any of the other creatures that used to live there.  In parts of the Twin Cities Mississippi River, legend has it that a survey found three fish at one point in the 20th century (that’s 3 individuals in a 10+ mile stretch of river, not three species!)


The Clean Water Act has been invaluable in providing a structure for agencies and advocates to work toward restoring water quality to a point where waters are (as a goal) fishable and swimmable.   All over the country, people are working on understanding what Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of certain substances will allow for meeting clean water goals.


But more is needed.  The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council has been engaged in reviving the urban river in Providence RI for over a decade.  Formed after the Blackstone-Woonasquatucket was named an American Heritage River,  the WRWC undertakes a host of scientific and community engagement projects that are restoring this waterway.


One of the more complex issues the WRWC has tacked involved removing obstacles to fish passage posed by dams on the river.  The WRWC is working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and other agencies to build fish ladders and in some cases actually remove dams.  See more here.


There’s a good deal of interest in dam removal on rivers across the country.  Each case and site is dramatically different, and warrants extensive analysis to ensure that the removal doesn’t release toxins downstream or cause other impacts that are themselves harmful to the goal of a healthy river.  Relatively small dams in an urban context like the Woonasquatucket in Providence offer a lot of opportunities for substantial benefits from relatively small projects.  Larger scale research, addressing more variables on larger structures, has been conducted at the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.


The return of shad and herring to the Woonasquatucket marks a good sign for potential urban river restoration across the country.

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