Our broken rivers affect fish…and you.

A devastating storm hit Vermont in fall 2011. It brought water levels rivaling the historic flood of 1927. Among the $1 billion of damage were 960 damaged culverts that led to floodwater and debris wiping out roads and homes.

What does this have to do with the Fish and Wildlife Service? Well, what we found out is that culverts, or road-stream crossings, that allow fish to pass through can also pass high waters and debris. Culverts that we helped design to pass fish withstood the storm. But these structures, typically tube- or square-shaped, are often undersized or placed at the wrong height for water levels.

The Service's New York Field Office used this bottomless culvert, shaped like an arch, to simulate a more natural environment for fish. The project opened 18 miles of waterway.

The Service’s New York Field Office used this bottomless culvert, shaped like an arch, to simulate a more natural environment for fish. The project opened 18 miles of waterway.

So having the right size, shape and placement is good for surviving extreme weather. But there are other reasons we want structures to allow fish to move up and downstream.

Fish are indicators of how healthy our environments and rivers are. They represent a natural water system. At one time, our nation’s fish populations were among the richest and most diverse in the world. But as we developed, barriers were constructed across streams and rivers—from dams for irrigation, power and drinking water to culverts under roads. Much of these prevented aquatic wildlife from moving between their natural habitats. Once abundant fish populations have declined or entirely disappeared due to these barriers.

The impacts reach beyond fish and affect the local communities surrounding these waters. Aquatic resources provide recreational, commercial and subsistence opportunities. Barriers cause water quality problems for people and wildlife. Boaters rely on free flowing rivers. Out-of-use dams are dangerous and a liability to owners.

America has more than 6 million of these barriers that range from dams to culverts and obstruct the natural flow of water and natural movement of wildlife. In the Northeast, many of our Service programs are involved in projects to correct this problem, from the National Fish Passage Program to the Coastal and Partners for Fish and Wildlife programs. Check back with us throughout the month for examples of how we’re helping free our region’s waters.

Videos:
Importance of Fish Passage
A River Couldn’t Run Through It
The National Fish Passage Program in Vermont

This is part of a series on fish passage. Read the other blog posts here.

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