PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit and Colonel Christopher Barron of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today joined U.S. Senator Jack Reed, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Representative David Cicilline and federal, state, and local officials at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Ten Mile River Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project. The project restores river herring to the Ten Mile River watershed and provides river connectivity for other resident fish species.
The event took place at the Hunt’s Mill Dam historic site in East Providence, one of the three dams where fish ladders were constructed to allow the passage of river herring along the Ten Mile River. The 56 square-mile Ten Mile River watershed originates in Massachusetts, crosses into Rhode Island, flows through East Providence, and then enters the Seekonk River (one of the headwaters of Narragansett Bay) at Omega Pond Dam.
The project was constructed in two phases. Construction of fish passages at Turner Reservoir and Hunt’s Mill Dams began in unison and finished in September 2012. The Omega Pond Dam started at a later date and was completed in April 2015.
"The Department of Environmental Management is proud to be part of a partnership of organizations that are passionate about restoring herring to their historic spawning grounds on the Ten Mile River and in Turner Reservoir," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Thousands of fish have already used the fishways, boasting the beginnings of a more self-sustained ecosystem. This project is improving the river environment for surrounding communities, the watershed, and Narragansett Bay."
"This aquatic ecosystem restoration project was possible because of the hard work of several federal, state, and local agencies and organizations," said Colonel Christopher Barron, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District. "The restoration of fish passage here will make a significant contribution to anadromous fish populations and the productivity and health of Narragansett Bay and the Ten Mile River watershed."
The four-foot wide fish ladders are concrete waterways with wooden baffles that allow fish to swim to their natural spawning habitat. Migrant slots were also cut into the existing spillways at
Omega Pond and Turner Reservoir to facilitate downstream migration of juvenile fish. A fish trap was also installed at Hunt’s Mill Dam to relocate excess fish to other watersheds.
The restoration project provides access to over 340 acres of spawning and nursery habitat, and approximately three miles of riverine spawning habitat for river herring. Based on the Department of Environmental Management’s projections, these habitat areas have the potential to support a fish run of more than 200,000 river herring. Increasing populations of herring will restore this ecosystem’s balance, which was disturbed by the dams’ presence.
"This is a real environmental and engineering success story. I am pleased to have secured federal funds to restore the health of the Ten Mile River watershed and ensure migratory fish can once again freely swim up and down the river. After more than a decade of work, the successful completion of this project is a testament to the resilience of the many volunteers, partners, and local leaders who have been engaged along the way," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, who helped secure federal funding for a project feasibility study in 2001 and the first federal earmark for the project in 2005, and went on to help provide 65% percent of the funding for the project by coordinating with a variety of federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
"These improvements open up historic spawning grounds to fish locked out for centuries. That will help balance the ecosystem and enable Rhode Islanders to once again fish healthy schools of herring. As a delegation, we fight hard for federal funding to get projects like this off the ground, and I’m always glad when they succeed," said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.
"I applaud the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on their work to restore the Ten Mile River aquatic ecosystem and protect our state’s natural wildlife," said U.S. Representative David Cicilline. "It is critical that we continue to make environmental protection a priority here in Rhode Island and across the country, and the success of this project demonstrates how every level of government can and should work together to get results for our communities."
"These fishways are now helping river herring reach upstream spawning grounds that had been blocked by dams since the late 1600s," said Buck Sutter, Director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Habitat Conservation. "Providing passage will help increase our herring populations—which are food for striped bass, cod, and other commercially and recreationally important fish— in turn supporting Rhode Island’s vital fishing industry and economy."
"This project is not only beneficial environmentally but also economically since it dramatically increases spawning habitat for herring. Such fish are a food source for bluefish and bass which are integral parts of Rhode Island fishing industry worth well over $200 million dollars annually," said R. Phou Vongkhamdy, RI NRCS State Conservationist.
"The CRMC is proud to have supported these important projects through the State Habitat Restoration Fund and NOAA federal stimulus funding, and congratulates all of the project partners on their successful completion," said Anne Maxwell-Livingston, Chair of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.
Historically, the Ten Mile River, along with the Blackstone and Pawtuxet Rivers, all hosted large runs of anadromous fish -- fish that live as adults in salt water, but spawn in the fresh waters where they were born. After the dams were constructed in the state, these fish runs dwindled greatly. Each dam created a new obstacle for the returning fish and as a result, by World War II, many of Narragansett Bay’s largest fish runs were barely a memory.
The Ten Mile River in East Providence was dammed at its mouth early in the 20th Century to create Omega Pond, an industrial water supply. But thanks to the efforts of local fishermen, remnants of the original fish runs have remained intact. Every spring, adult river herring have returned to the base of the dam, and local fishermen and volunteers from the Ten Mile Watershed Council and the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association have caught them and hauled them over the dam to spawn in the waters of Omega Pond.
The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the Middleborough Herring Fisheries Commission also led critical stocking efforts in the upper regions of the watershed, which helped sustain fish populations throughout the years on both sides of the RI-MA border.
DEM currently manages 21 fish runs throughout the state, and the Department is working with many partners on other proposed anadromous habitat restoration projects on the Pawtuxet, Woonasquatucket and Pawcatuck River systems. River herring are an essential part of Rhode Island’s ecosystem, and their protection is important to the natural resource landscape of the state.
The Ten Mile River project has brought together a diverse community that includes the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Environment Management, Coastal Resources Management Council, City of East Providence, EPA, USDA’s NRCS, NOAA, Ten Mile River Watershed Council, and Save The Bay.
The total project cost is approximately $8.9 million, including real estate credits and work in kind. Federal funding paid for approximately 65% of the project cost, while state and local matching funds contributed approximately 35% for the completion of the fishways. The federal contribution includes approximately $5 million provided by the Army Corps of Engineers, $373,000 from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided through the City of East Providence, and $507,000 in EPA 319 Program funds. DEM’s non-federal match was supported by DEM funds ($295,000), real estate credits, and work in kind and contributions from the Narragansett Bay Watershed Restoration Bond Fund ($1,065,450), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ($630,000), RICRMC’s Habitat Restoration Trust Fund ($100,000), and $50,000 from the Fish America Foundation. Save the Bay also contributed funds to support the project’s feasibility study.