CFE/Save the Sound receives grant for fish passage project

Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its bi-state program Save the Sound are a step closer to improving migratory access for fish in southwestern Connecticut, thanks to a grant received from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund (LISFF). LISFF is a program managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Long Island Sound Study, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative. The program awards grants to conservation and environmental quality projects in Connecticut and New York focused on protection and restoration of Long Island Sound.

CFE/Save the Sound will use these funds to help restore fish passage on the Noroton River, a tidal river that forms the boundary between Darien and Stamford. In the 1950s the Connecticut Department of Transportation constructed I-95, bridging the Noroton River and channeling it through a three-section box culvert. The culvert’s design failed to accommodate the needs and abilities of migratory fish species such as river herring; instead it presented a nearly impenetrable barrier to migration. This fish passage project will clear the way to desirable diadromous fish habitat upstream—habitat that has been blocked for more than 50 years.

“Removing this long-standing obstacle to fish migration will greatly benefit the river herring run, the health of the Noroton River, and the overall Long Island Sound ecosystem,” said Gwen Macdonald, habitat restoration director for CFE/Save the Sound. “We expect the alewife populations to thrive in the upstream habitat at Olson Woods, preserved by our partners at the Darien Land Trust.”

The Darien Land Trust has permanently preserved and protected over 200 acres in Darien including key properties both upstream and downstream from the site of this fish passage project. They have worked with CFE/Save the Sound on the Noroton fish passage project for the last several years. “We are committed to helping complete this project with CFE/Save the Sound and to restore the river herring run on the Noroton River that was extinguished by the construction of I-95 in the 1950s. This is an integral part of our ongoing stewardship throughout the Noroton River Watershed,” said Flip Huffard, President of the Darien Land Trust. “We look forward to the construction of this excellent project and the successful restoration of many miles of fish passage on the Noroton River.”

The existing culverts have a drop of up to two feet at the downstream end and shallow sheets of water, making it hard for fish to swim upstream. A three-part engineering design by Princeton Hydro, an environmental engineering firm contracted by CFE/Save the Sound, will modify the culverts with an upstream weir that will raise water levels by diverting a portion of the river flow through a single culvert during low flow conditions; a series of baffles to further raise water levels and slow the flow; and a downstream rock ramp to overcome the vertical drop at the end of the outlet.

This project will boost the statewide effort to restore more abundant populations of American shad, alewife, and blueback herring to Connecticut rivers with a tidal connection. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protections has included the Noroton River in a statewide seeding program to encourage alewife spawning. Several hundred alewives were introduced to the lake in Olson Woods in Darien in recent years. The Noroton River is also one of very few rivers in Fairfield County that supports a sea lamprey population; sea lamprey and American eel will also benefit from the improvements to fish passage at this location. The habitat of other riverine species could also expand, as the rock ramp should allow travel by resident fish, such as white suckers, and other local fauna.

Project partners include Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) Inland Fisheries Division, the CT DEEP Office of Long Island Sound Programs, the Darien Land Trust, NOAA Restoration Center/ Restore America’s Estuaries, and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

The feasibility study and engineering design were funded through previous grants by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Office of Long Island Sound Programs and through a grant from NOAA Restoration Center/ Restore America’s Estuaries.

Pending permit approval and successful fundraising for the final construction costs, CFE/Save the Sound hopes to begin construction next summer.

A list of all the projects that received Long Island Sound Futures Fund support may be found at http://longislandsoundstudy.net/about/grants/lis-futures-fund

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