RISAA Foundation to help
fund fish ladders

RISAA Foundation


There was a time when all of the tributaries of Narragansett Bay were loaded with migrating fish.  Alewives, blueback herring, shad and salmon returned to these rivers and streams every year to spawn.  These fish are “anadromous” meaning they live in saltwater, but return to fresh water (the same stream they were born in) to spawn.

Then came the industrial revolution and as mills sprouted up along the rivers, dams were built to provide power to operate those mills.  Those dams blocked these fish from returning to their birth places, and one by one, those “runs” died off.

The Bay also became polluted with chemicals and metals, waste from those same factories, further reducing the ability of migrating fish to return.

Then, in the 1970’s public awareness of these problems grew.  A new group was formed called Save The Bay, and it worked to point out the problems in the bay and bringing attention to various sewer plants, etc.

The 1980’s saw public attention the the major rivers which fed into the Bay.   People began to hear about the Pawtuxet, Providence, Seekonk and Blackstone Rivers.

Jump ahead to the 90’s and we find great improvements to the quality of all of those rivers.  Birds and fish have returned, and those same once-dead rivers are now capable of again hosting migrating fish, but those rivers are still blocked with old dams, barriers that prevent the fish from returning.

Today we find that every river has it’s own group of citizens that are working on restoration, and most have the return of  fish populations as a top priority.

FISH LADDERS AND HERRING RUNS
Much work has been done to restore andromous fish to smaller streams.  RIDEM, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Save The Bay and other private groups have provided funding for fish ladders and herring runs. Citizen groups such as the Buckeye Brook Coalition in Warwick have gone a long way in restoring and protecting individual runs.
The larger rivers present bigger problems.  Dams must be removed or large costly fish ladders need to be constructed to allow fish to swim upstream.

A host of agencies need to be involved in a permitting process and private property concerns are usually present.  Costs can run from thousands  to millions of dollars for a single project.

Fortunately, federal funding is usually available to large projects, but often require local matching funds.  RIDEM can often put in some of the funding, but nearly every project ultimate counts on public participation.

Jump ahead to the 90’s and we find great improvements to the quality of all of those rivers.  Birds and fish have returned, and those same once-dead rivers are now capable of again hosting migrating fish, but those rivers are still blocked with old dams, barriers that prevent the fish from returning.

Today we find that every river has it’s own group of citizens that are working on restoration, and most have the return of  fish populations as a top priority.


TEN MILE RIVER PROJECT
The Ten Mile River project is a priority of RIDEM.  This  river originates in Massachusetts and ends at Narragansett Bay in East Providence.  It is believed that restoring herring runs at three dams, beginning at the 33 acre Omega Pond and progressing 7.5 miles upstream to the 287 acre Turner Reservoir.

The first step is a three-phase plan is to construct a 60 foot long fish passage (Denil fishway) at the first dam at Omega Pond. 

Note that this is the same location that anglers of the Slater Mill Fishing Club have been passing herring over the dam by hand for a number of years.

The second barrier is the Hunts Mill Dam, and the third is the Turner Reservoir Dam.
Estimates of restoring just this first run would provide passage to 40,000 herring, and upon completion of all three phases, the number of herring would increase to 205,000.
If all permitting is completed as planned, construction of this first fish passage will begin by next spring.

See Army Corps of Engineers Press Release: (click here)

Funding so far is being provided by DEM with NRCS federal match.  The City of East Providence is on board as landowner of the three dams, and is donating nearby land, planning walkways, a possible visitor center and signage to explain the ladder.
Total construction cost is estimated at $2.2 million, of which 65% is federally funded ($1,4 million), and 35% non-federal funded ($770,000.  Additional funding is still required and the RISAA Foundation is committed to helping.

BLACKSTONE RIVER PROJECT
The Blackstone River is another multi-phase project that is moving along toward reality.  Like other rivers, water quality in the Blackstone has improved, and this river is ready for the return of anadromous fish.

This project will involve fish passage by four dams, and will require federal, state and community support.  Lead organization is the Blackstone River Watershed Council.
According to Frank Geary, fish passage project coordinator for the Council, the total project will cost $2.5 million and $1.56 million of federal funding is already approved by NRCS.
The four phases of the project will include 1) the Main Street dam closest to the Providence River, 2) the Slater Mill dam, 3) Elizabeth Webbing dam, and 4) the Valley Mill Dam.  This would open 11 miles of river to herring which will find spawning habitat in various tributaries along the river, all the way to the Lonsdale March.

(Editor’s note: as of this writing, news reports surfaced of  thousands of adult menhaden in the Blackstone at the Main Street dam, endlessly circling in the river with nowhere to go)
Geary also credits DEM Director Sullivan for helping to get the project underway.  At a public meeting last month, he said of Sullivan, “He’s a friend of the Blackstone, of the environmental people in Rhode Island. It was tried for 30 years and got nowhere. Thank you very much.”

Geary has contacted RISAA and requested assistance from the RISAA Foundation.  The amount has not yet been decided, but the Board has agreed to help.

See their plan: (click here)

WOONASQUATUCKET RIVER
The Rising Sun Mill Fish Passage project on the Woonasquatucket River, is another project that would restore fish passage for the lower river with the construction of a denil fish ladder and plunge pool to allow upstream and downstream access to the reservoir.
A second fish passage project is also planned at the Dyerville Dam.

The RISAA Foundation has also voted to help this project which is headed by the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council.

See the NRCS federal plan for this project: (click here)


WE NEED YOUR HELP
RISAA members are encouraged to contribute to the Foundation.  It is only with your help that the Foundation can continue to help fund projects like these.  The restoration of our rivers and construction of fish ladders are projects worthy of everyone’s support.
The Foundation is a federally recognized 501(c)(3) charitble organization, and contributions are tax deductable.

Find out more about the Foundation: (click here)