For centuries, a dam has blocked fish from migrating upstream to their spawning grounds in Colchester.
The old Norton Mill Dam is going away, for good.
The Colchester landmark once provided water power to a mill that has stood on the Jeremy River for nearly 200 years, and blocked eels and fish from migrating upstream to spawn.
"Very, very few of these can get past this dam. By this project opening up, this river with 16 miles of habitat, all of that habitat, will be available for fish like this and of course other fish...so we're going to see a lot more of these,” said Steve Gerhard, who is a fisher’s biologist for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Heavily damaged recently by fire, the property owners sold the 3-acre site to the town for a future park for $1.
Backed by federal and state grants, the nature conservancy is working with DEEP to remove the dam and restore the river.
But first they have to safely remove the water...along with the creatures who live in the river.
"We want to make sure we don't leave fish stranded on the mud, mussel stranded, so we're doing a little salvage operation as the pond gets lowered,” said Sally Harold, of The Nature Conservancy.
This is Harold’s eighth dam removal project.
"For all those hundreds of years, migratory fish have not been able to access upstream habitat which is very valuable for them to fulfill their life cycles,” Harold said.
The Nature Conservancy has successfully removed dams on the Pawcatuck River, which is the state line with Rhode Island, and the Ed Bill Dam in Lyme. In each case, fish have immediately returned to their native spawning grounds.
For generations, a dam stood on the east branch of the Eight Mile River. It was the Ed Bill Dam and there was a 6 acre pond behind it. It was taken away last year.
Now the river bed follows its natural course, along the banks, seeds from native grasses and plants suddenly sprouted with sun and air.
"In the spring, I was actually part of a team that actually snorkeled through that former impoundment down the stream channel. We were thrilled to already see fish already making use of that habitat,” Harold said.
The habitat in the Jeremy River will do the same thing, once 7-foot thick layers of sediment and leaves are taken away.
"By removing this dam not only will we reunite lots more habitat upstream, we'll improve the quality of the river habitat right here,” Gerhard said.
"We’re always trying to figure out how we can convince more dam owners to come to us or just take the dam out themselves, but a lot of people are unfamiliar with what the outcome will be and what the river might look like once the dam is gone,” Harold said.
When it’s gone...it will look like it did, 200 years ago.
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