Project 15 years in the making restores migratory fish passage to upper Farm River
North Branford, CT—Save the Sound and project partners cut the ribbon and lifted the gate Monday on a new fishway at Pages Millpond dam, the site of an old mill dating back to 1697. The new pathway, comprised of a series of ladder-like ramps and concrete channels, will allow migratory (or diadromous) fish like alewife and American eel, as well as resident species like trout, access to 4.25 acres of lake habitat and the more than 6 stream miles between Pages Millpond dam and the next man-made barrier upstream. Much of this is historic habitat for laying eggs, hatching young, foraging, and sheltering that has not been accessible since the dam was first constructed to power a mill centuries ago.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) and Trout Unlimited – Hammonassett Chapter helped draw up designs for an Alaskan Steeppass fishway at the site in 2008, but the timeline for construction never quite matched up with available funds. Save the Sound got involved in 2017, and together the group was able to secure the funding necessary for construction. The dam is owned and maintained by the Suter family, whose home rests squarely upon the edge of the dam itself. A local architect, Lindsay Suter has dreamt for years of having a fishway built to restore fish passage to the pond and stream above the dam.
“Watching the construction has been a true joy,” said Suter in a recent reflection on the project. “Not merely because we have been working on it for nearly 15 years; not merely because it will connect migratory fish to miles more spawning habitat; not merely because our family wants to be good stewards of our little piece of Connecticut; but because it is real, tangible progress in a time of forced inaction.”
While Save the Sound’s ecological restoration construction work has been deemed essential by the state, allowing the project to come to completion, the effects of COVID-19 were felt—and seen—at the ribbon-cutting Monday. While Lindsay Suter donned a mask to participate in the celebration, the rest of the family remained indoors across the river. The crew, similarly, wore masks as final inspections were completed and physically-distanced group photos were taken.
Nonetheless, the installation of the fishway marks a major victory for the interconnected ecological systems of the Farm River watershed and Long Island Sound. Fish passage had already been partially restored on the Farm River when a fishway was installed in 2014 at the East Haven Diversion Dam downstream of Pages Millpond, and CT DEEP has determined that the river habitat above the only remaining upstream barrier is not historically significant for alewife. In other words, all critical spawning habitat for alewife on the Farm River is once more accessible following the opening of the Pages Millpond fishway.
“This was a really critical project executed during a tough times,” said Alex Krofta, ecological restoration project manager at Save the Sound. “Our engineering team at Nathan Jacobson, our construction team at Schumack, DEEP Fisheries staff, and the Suter family all adjusted quickly and coordinated to keep the project moving forward safely. Now that it’s complete, the connectivity and resilience of the whole ecosystem will be improved, and we’re excited to watch as the Farm River continues the process of restoration.”