Release The Herring!

Thomas MacMillan PhotoA dam built in the 1770s, a relic from a bygone age of industry, lies behind a Walgreens on Whalley Avenue—but not for much longer.

The dam, which was built more than two centuries ago to power a textile mill, is slated to be taken apart this summer so that river herring will be free to swim upstream to spawn.

The dam-removal project got the go-ahead Wednesday evening from the City Plan Commission, which voted unanimously to allow the Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE) to begin work.

Gwen Macdonald and John Champion, both with CFE and Save the Sound, pitched the plan to the City Plan Commission Wednesday. Champion said the dam removal is part of larger environmental efforts focused on the West River, including the installation of self-regulating tide gates and a revamped Edgewood Park duck pond.

The dam is in bad shape, Champion said. Removing it will allow fish to swim upstream and “restore riverine conditions,” he said.

The project will remove about 100 feet of dam, currently owned by the New Haven Land Trust, said Macdonald.

The work will begin July , take a couple of months, and cost about $550,000, funded by grants, largely from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

River herring, or Alewives, which live in the sound, need to move to fresh water for certain parts of their life-cycle, Macdonald said. In 2001, a fish ladder (at left in photo) was installed to allow some fish to move upstream. River herring migrate from the spring until the end of June.

Removing the dam would allow more fish to make the passage up to Konolds Pond in Woodbridge, where they breed and spawn, Champion said. Juvenile Alewives then go back down to the sound, where they are a food source for striped bass and ospreys, Macdonald said.

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posted by: jim1 on April 17, 2014  1:51pm

Will the salmon ever get any help, in the Conn. River.??

posted by: Nan Bartow on April 17, 2014  2:40pm

Thanks, Thomas, for your interesting article and terrific photos of the dam.  I think you are referring to John Champion with CFE and Save the Sound rather than John Chapman. Please keep us up to date on the upcoming developments of this project.

[Ed: Thanks for the correction.[

posted by: DR on April 17, 2014  4:20pm

There have been two attempts to restore salmon to the Connecticut River, both failures.

posted by: Kevin on April 17, 2014  4:59pm

Can the fish ladder be relocated and re-used?

posted by: J.R. Logan on April 17, 2014  5:23pm


Yes, the fish ladder can be reused. Although the dam measurements are particular to the dam the fish ladder itself is modular. The plan, as I understand it, is to put it into a “bank” of fishladder parts with the state so it can be reused in another location. CFE / Save the Sound might have more details on how that will work.

-JR (New Haven Land Trust, Board Chairman)

posted by: Champ358 on April 18, 2014  9:27am

We (STS) do not have any details on how the Fisheries division of CT DEEP will reuse the fishway. Our commitment is to disconnect and have the unit available for them to reuse.

We (STS) are thrilled that we we can add (subtract( this improvement to the West River. This river is a jewel in an urban setting and along with Edgewood Park provides a respite for residents. There is still more work to be done to clean up all sources of pollution and to make the river pristine. We hope that we will have more projects that continue to this work in the near future.

posted by: olesailorman on April 23, 2014  1:22am

What will happen to the land under the “Pond Lily” once the dam is removed and the pond drains?

Will it become a soggy, debris littered bog?
After over 200 years of silting due to the dam, will there be defined river channel or just a swampy area liable to flood the surrounding areas during periods of heavy rain?

I was in the neighborhood during the flooding around 1980 and believe that dam helped to prevent an even more severe flood.
The pond and the dam are fairly picturesque and are a part of the fabric (albeit underutilized) of the neighborhood.


posted by: Save the Sound on April 23, 2014  8:55am

Doug, your concerns have merit but most of the issues have been addressed by a long engineering and regulatory process. the first step in this process will be to lower the existing level of the water by a controlled breach of the dam. The river flow will the be diverted slightly and the old, historical river channel will be reestablished. Then the river flow will be diverted to this historic channel. The bank closest to Whalley Ave will be built up using the material on the site and there will be a planting of native species. There will not be a swampy area but rather a return to a river regime. The plans and concepts have been developed using the expertise of the MMI, a local engineering firm with significant experience in river restoration,and have been reviewed by the USACOE and the CTDEEP and New Haven City Plan.

The relationship of dams to local flooding is much more complicated than you suggest. Responding to that comment is beyond the scope of this venue but as part of the hydrologic analysis, the potential for flood damage was considered and the greater danger is an uncontrolled breach and a sudden release of water downstream. This is a probability considering the age and the condition of the current dam. The detailed engineering plans have been filed at City Plan and i suspect that if you make an appointment, you would be able to review and to gather a fuller understanding of what this project entails.