Monday, June 22, 2015

Omega Pond Fish Ladder opens up the Ten Mile River

After several delays and technical challenges, the Omega Pond fish ladder at the mouth of the Ten Mile River was finally opened just in time for this year's spring fish run. Herring were waiting at the dam when the ladder was opened, and fish were seen making their way to Hunt's Mill where an annual fish count is done by volunteers.

Save The Bay's connection to this project began in 1996, when  Paul Bettencourt took Wenley Ferguson on a tour of the ponds where he once fished for herring, now long since filled in. They stopped at the Omega Pond dam, where Paul shared his vision of restoring the fish run. Dick Quinn, an engineer with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, completed a conceptual design for three fish ladders, and the project began in 2001 with an Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study. The project was a collaboration between many state, federal and local partners including Save The Bay, the CRMC, DEM, the City of East Providence and the Ten Mile River Watershed Council.

About 65% percent of the funding for the project was provided by federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This funding includes about $5 million from the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Now that three fish ladders are in place, herring have three river miles and about 340 acres of habitat in which to spawn. They can now make their way to the Massachusetts state line, where they find the next dam at the Pawtucket Country Club. This dam is part of the Ten Mile River Reservation and is owned by RI DEM. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has been supporting this project and provided fish from the Nemasket River herring run in Middleboro. These fish were stocked into the upper Ten Mile River to help maintain the run. The run was also maintained by a group of fishermen who for over ten years scooped returning herring and stocked them into the river under cover of darkness. These scooping events became celebrations as more and more fish returned and several thousand fish were helped over Omega Pond dam. 

Save The Bay will continue to work on this project and will advocate for continued river restoration. Water quality improvements are still desperately needed and the upper Turner Reservoir and Central Ponds often experience blooms of toxic blue-green algae. The flow in the Ten Mile River, like many of the Bay's small tributaries, is dominated by wastewater effluent. The Attleboro treatment plant is under strict new permit limits, but nutrient pollution in stormwater and from birds and wildlife is still contaminating the river. Opening up the fish passage is only part of the story. True habitat restoration will take work on many fronts including water quality and in stream habitat. We can now begin a dialogue with Massachusetts about additional restoration opportunities over the border, and the work is just beginning!