Every spring, fish such as alewife migrate from the salt waters of the Sound to freshwater rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes to spawn. But in Queach Brook, a tributary of the Branford River, a 17-foot high dam has blocked fish trying to swim upstream for the past 100 years.
That changed in spring 2006, thanks to the efforts of the Town of Branford, state and federal government agencies, and non-profit groups. These partners built a fishway that has helped restore the natural cycle of fish that migrate between saltwater and freshwater. As a result of these efforts, the Branford Land Trust, which manages the project, won a Coastal America Partnership Award for an outstanding team effort to restore and protect a coastal environment.
“It was really exciting to see that connection being remade between the ocean and the inland areas around the watershed,” said Tom Cleveland, the project manager, and a member of the Branford Land Trust’s Board of Directors. “Within 20 years, we hope to see tractor trailer loads of migratory fish spawning in this high quality watershed.”
Fishways are structures made of various materials that allow fish to swim around and over barriers. Branford’s fishway, known as the Supply Pond fishway, is a steeppass, a pre-fabricated aluminum chute. Vanes along the sides and bottom of the chute create turbulence that lowers the velocity of the water spilling from the dam to the brook from 20 cubic feet per second to 3 cubic feet per second. At the slower speed, fish can swim up the steeppass and reach the other side of the dam.
As soon as the fishway opened in April 2006 fish took advantage. A counter installed at the top of the dam counted 3,000 alewives passing through to Supply Pond in the first season. Monitoring upstream has revealed that some of the fish ended up in Lindsley Lake, a 24-acre waterbody four miles upstream, which had been a traditional spawning ground before the dam was erected.
Fishways can be expensive because each project needs to be specially designed for the site. Branford’s fishway cost $203,500 plus $50,000 in in-kind services. To help pay for the project, the Land Trust reached out to many funding and service partners, including the Town of Branford, the Connecticut Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, the Connecticut Long Island Sound License Plate Program, Save the Sound, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Natural Resources Conservation Service. LISS, through the Sound Futures Fund, also was a partner, contributing $60,000.