Federal, State, Local, and Non-Profit Cooperative Effort to Restore Mill River in Stamford

City of Stamford removes two dams –one of the largest dam removal projects in Connecticut–Stocking alewives for the first time to help restore important ecosystems

Cloonan Middle School students watch 400 alewives fish set loose into the Mill River in Stamford. The students earlier that day monitored water quality as part of their volunter water quality monitoring program. Hour photo/Matthew Vinci.

Stamford, April 20, 2010—The  Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEP), City of Stamford, US EPA Long Island Sound Study and the Mill River Collaborative today showcased work to restore the Mill River and allow for the return of important species of fish.

A ceremony at Scalzi Park, (formerly known as Woodside Park), Stamford, featured the release of alewives into the Rippowam River (popularly known as the Mill River),  where they will now be able to migrate upstream to breed and then move downstream to Long Island Sound as a result of the removal of old dams.

Removal of two dams by the City of Stamford with support from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Mill River Collaborative in 2009 began a comprehensive restoration project which currently has opened up 4.5 river miles to increase fish runs on the Rippowam River (Mill River).  At the ceremony 400 alewives brought from Bride Brook at Rocky Neck State Park, East Lyme, were released to help restore the river and rebuild river herring runs.

Project funding included $5,000,000 in Army Corps Section 206 Habitat Restoration funding and $2.9 million from the City of Stamford.

DEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Frechette said, “This is a milestone day in the environmental history of our state.  We are witnessing the re-introduction of fish species to this river and seeing first-hand the benefits of removing dams that no longer have a real purpose.  The presence of the Cloonan Middle School students here also reminds us that we take these actions not just for our benefit today – but for the benefit of our children, grandchildren and future generations.”

City of Stamford Mayor Michael A. Pavia said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to know we are returning herring to Mill River (after 369 years); this literally brings life to the river and serves as a metaphor for Mill River’s rebirth as a vital resource in the City of Stamford. It also serves as a symbol of respect and reverence for our environment; and that’s a good thing.”

“It is a wonderful experience to stand on the banks of Mill River and see the natural flow,” said Jeanette Brown, Executive Director of Stamford Water Pollution Authority. “More important is that by removing the dam we have begun to restore the habitat of an important species of fish. With the establishment of the herring populations, we are not only impacting beneficially the ecology of the Mill River, but also Long Island Sound and by extension the global water environment.”

Milton Puryear, Executive Director of Mill River Collaborative said, “We can now look forward to the day when the arrival of tens of thousands of river herring roil and boil the river waters sending a wave of excitement through the people of Stamford, adults and children alike.”

“Restoring an urban river in one of Connecticut’s largest cities provides thousands of people with a unique opportunity to connect with nature in their neighborhoods,” said Mark Tedesco, director of the EPA Long Island Sound Office and the Long Island Sound Study program. “This is also great news for Long Island Sound. Thanks to the efforts of the city, state, and federal governments to remove a dam and restock the river with a species native to our area, the Mill River will once again function as a vital artery for restoring fish populations to Long Island Sound.”

Background Information

Mill River Collaborative

The Mill River Collaborative is a public/private partnership of government, corporate, and community interests whose mission is to provide leadership for the creation and maintenance of a successful Mill River Park and Greenway. Formed in 2002, the Collaborative is a 501c3

non-profit corporation that works to complement municipal resources with contributions from the private sector in order to accomplish what neither could achieve alone in transforming the river and creating Mill River Park & Greenway along its banks.

The Mill River Project plan calls for the restoration of the river, an expanded flood plain, open space and park development with greenbelt connections to Long Island Sound and north along the Rippowam River. Included in the project is the removal of a dam and associated walls,

dredging of contaminated materials, all leading to a restored river channel and riparian edges.  The Mill River Corridor Project envisions a 28-acre park and greenway along a 1.9-mile stretch of the river.

The dam removals and river restoration were completed in 2009, with the exception of planting that will occur this spring. Park and greenway construction will follow.

Since the first dam was built in 1641, the river has been dammed for industrial purposes. A series of grist mills, fulling mills, saw mills, planing mills and flax mills have used the dams to power production. The recently demolished Mill Pond dam and walls were constructed by the

Diamond Ice Company in the 1920s. Over the years the Mill Pond dam has contributed to flooding in downtown; and Stamford and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection have sought ways to facilitate fish passage to river herring dependent on upstream fresh water for spawning.

Restoration of the Mill River

For more than 350 years, the Mill River was controlled by a series of dams.  These dams once served local industries, but they also blocked the natural river migration routes of fish such as alewives and blueback herring to and from Long Island Sound.  In 2009, the City of Stamford, with support from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Mill River Collaborative removed two dams, and began restoring the natural riverbed.

The opportunity to re-establish river herring runs on the Rippowam River, known as the Mill River in its lower reach, has been created by the removal of these dams, one at the former Mill Pond and a remnant dam at the mouth of the harbor under the Pulaski Street Bridge.  This river restoration includes the creation of Mill River Park & Greenway and more extensive restoration of the river and riparian environment.  At the former Mill Pond site, one of a series of dams has prevented river herring migration since the first dam was built in 1641.  The re-establishment of river herring runs on the Rippowam now marks a truly historic moment.

Importance of Re-introducing Alewives and Herring

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEP) is working with the City of Stamford and local residents to restore the Rippowam River and rebuild the fish runs.  Analysis by DEP staff indicates that historically runs of anadromous fishes in the Rippowam River were abundant.  At one time alewife and the closely related blueback herring numbered in the tens of thousands each year.

The experience on the Rippowam River is typical for what happened all over Connecticut, dams were built to power mills which resulted in blockage of the pathway for migratory fishes.  The important spawning habitat for alewives and blueback herring is upstream from Stamford.  If fish cannot reach that habitat due to dams they cannot spawn and the species will disappear from the river.  Alewives and blueback herring never totally disappeared because of a small habitat located below the dam. They continued to appear each spring but were unable to swim up to the Rippowam River and their numbers declined.

Removal of deteriorated dams will help in restoring fish runs and improving the entire ecosystem.  Schools of alewives feed striped bass and bluefish, tuna and porpoises, seals in the ocean and otters in the river.  Birds such as great blue herons that wade in the water and birds such as ospreys and eagles that dive from the sky also benefit from increased populations of alewives and blueback herring.

The DEP will continue to work with the City and local residents to restore the Rippowam River and rebuild the fish runs.  Four hundred alewives that have not spawned yet were brought from Bride Brook in East Lyme and released into the river today to assist with the restoration. In addition to releasing fish into the river today, the DEP will also be looking at other fish populations in the river, surveying the stream for other barriers, and working with all interested parties to develop a plan to help increase fish migration.

Cloonan Middle School Students

Middle school students have been working on an on-going monitoring project of the river which is a few hundred feet from their school.  The students, who live in a highly urbanized area, are sampling the water for pH, turbidity, nitrogen, and dissolved oxygen, and learn about how they and others impact rivers and streams.  Through their efforts, they are also learning important lessons about mathematics, chemistry, biology and physical sciences.

The students are assisted by the city’s Mill River Collaborative, the city’s Land Use Bureau, the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority, New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, and the Long Island Sound Study, a partnership program of the EPA’s Long Island Sound Office.

In 2009, the City of Stamford, with support from the US Army Corps of Engineers, removed a dam and began restoring the natural riverbed.  The student data, which is collected monthly, is among the first data collected to measure the impact of the restoration project.

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