A Dam Success: The National Fish Passage Program Helps Restore Streams, While Benefitting People and Local Economies
USFW press release
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and community partners across the nation worked together to remove or bypass 158 dams, culverts and other structures in 2011, opening more than 2,180 miles of streams to native fish populations. These efforts, coordinated through the National Fish Passage Program, have also contributed to improved water quality, provided additional recreational and economic opportunities, and even addressed serious threats to human health and safety.
“The National Fish Passage Program serves as a vital catalyst for grass-roots community action that not only benefits native species and habitat, but also contributes to local economies and addresses aging and sometimes dangerous infrastructure,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Everyone wins when rivers and streams are allowed to flow freely again – that’s why this program is so popular and successful.”
Documenting these successful efforts, the Service released its 2011 Annual Report for the National Fish Passage program this week. The report, which can be viewed at http://www.fws.gov/fisheries/facilities/nfpp.html, provides dozens of stories and examples of projects completed in the past year that have provided tremendous benefits to fish, wildlife and local communities.
The National Fish Passage Program, administered by the Service, is a voluntary initiative active in all 50 states. The non-regulatory program addresses barriers that limit fish movement vital for their survival. Fish passage is gained by removing dams, replacing poorly designed culverts, constructing low-water crossings, and installing fishways. These projects are done in close cooperation with state and federal agencies, non-government organizations, universities and supporting individuals. Program staff identifies, prioritizes, funds, designs and reviews these conservation projects, while working closely with a wide variety of programs and partners to provide technical support to local communities.
Since the program’s creation in 1999, the Service and more than 700 project partners have removed 1,118 barriers to fish passage, reopening 17,683 stream miles to access by more than 90 native species of fish and freshwater mussels and reconnecting nearly 120,000 acres of wetlands to their historic water sources. In turn, these projects have contributed an estimated $9.7 billion to local economies and supported nearly 220,000 jobs.
From the earliest days of the American colonies, people have sought to harness streams and redirect them to provide valuable services such as irrigation, power production, drinking water, flood control and transportation. As a result, millions of culverts, dikes, water diversions, dams, and other artificial barriers have been constructed to impound and redirect water flowing through every river system and watershed in the nation. While many of these structures continue to serve a purpose, thousands of them are obsolete, abandoned or deteriorating.
An estimated 74,000 dams alone dot the American landscape, thousands of which are small dams built decades ago that no longer serve a purpose. These structures impede the passage of native fish and destroy spawning habitat, as well as degrading water quality by preventing stream flow that flushes sediment and pollutants out of river systems. They also reduce fishing and other river-based recreational and economic opportunities for people. And in some cases, aging dams threaten downstream communities should they fail, or otherwise endanger human life and safety by creating dangerous drowning conditions.
For example, the town of Front Royal, Virginia worked with National Fish Passage Program staff to remove an abandoned low head dam on the Shenandoah River that was the site of multiple drownings. This “drowning machine,” as it was called locally, was removed in October, 2011, enabling residents and visitors to enjoy fishing, canoeing and swimming on a safer river.
And in the Klamath Basin of Northern California, the Service worked with the Karuk Tribe, the Forest Service and local watershed and salmon restoration councils to restore fish passage on ten miles of the Klamath River. Completed in 2011, the project identified and addressed 48 barriers to fish passage in this stretch of the river. And by using tribal youth to do much of the work, it provided summer jobs to dozens of young men and women and introduced them to potential careers in fisheries science.
“As this project and many others like it demonstrate, the National Fish Passage Program is also an avenue for young adults to develop skills and confidence that will help them throughout life, whether they pursue a career in conservation or not,” said Director Ashe. “We are very grateful to the Service employees, partners and communities who have done so much to make the Program a monumental success for both people and wildlife.”
For more information on the National Fish Passage Program and its accomplishments, or for how to apply for funding and technical assistance, visit http://www.fws.gov/fisheries/facilities/nfpp.html.