Protecting People, Helping Fish and Wildlife
Situated on the Jeremy River in Colchester, Conn., Norton Paper Mill is attached to one of several dams set for demolition. The mill building could be written into the pages of a Stephen King novel: fires and neglect have gutted much of the interior; the dilapidated roof is beyond repair; and surges of water shoot from cracks in the building’s foundation, becoming vertical geysers.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Georgia Basso, who is working with the Service’s Coastal Program to assess the removal of Pond Lily dam in Connecticut, says in the event of a big storm like Sandy, an obsolete structure like the Norton Mill dam could easily collapse, cause major flooding and create numerous threats for both wildlife and people.
“Connecticut River native fish—such as alewife, blueback herring and Atlantic salmon—don’t have access to their spawning grounds because of these dams.” – Georgia Basso, Service biologist
Bolstered by nearly $102 million in federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, the Service is working with partners to strengthen natural defenses that can help protect Atlantic Coast communities against future storms. Part of that strategy includes removing or evaluating 13 dams in 14 states. Nearly $7 million alone is being invested for on-the-ground conservation projects in Connecticut. These include five dam removal projects designed to create healthy habitats for fish and other wildlife, as well as reduce the risk of flooding to communities.
Service fisheries biologist Phil Herzig leads Sandy-funded dam removal projects for Norton Mill and Flock Process dams in Connecticut. According to Herzig, once a dam breaks, tons of built up water and sediment would be released into the surrounding areas. The damage and flooding caused could be monumental.
Herzig says removing dams allows rivers to behave like rivers and gives fish an opportunity to live out their natural life cycle.
“Rivers tend to self-regulate if they’re healthy,” he says. “The benefit for fish and wildlife would be passage. Terrestrials as well as aquatics can move up and down without impediment.” The result is a win- win investment to protect communities and help fish and wildlife.