Dams and Fish
In the past, culverts, dams, water diversions and other barriers were constructed to redirect water for agricultural irrigation, flood control, electricity, transportation and drinking water. These barriers change the flow of waters in our rivers and streams, and consequently degrade habitat for aquatic species including fish. Barriers also prevent fish from reaching their traditional rearing and spawning grounds, causing populations to decline.
As technology increased, many of these artificial barriers became obsolete. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is now working to remove barriers and reconnect habitats previously separated to restore degraded populations of fish and other aquatic species throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For example, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office and our partners coordinated efforts to remove a stone and timber dam in Cecil County, Maryland. The Octoraro Creek dam prevented fish moving from the Susquehanna River upstream to spawn.
Octoraro Creek Dam
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and various state and non-governmental partners removed the Octoraro Creek Dam in Cecil County on October 6th, 2005. Removing the dam opened up 19 miles of spawning habitat for anadromous fish species including American and hickory shad, alewife and blueback herring, and yellow and white perch as well as the catadromous American eel. In addition, the removal opened up Octoraro Creek to paddlers, creating additional recreational opportunities.
“We are trying to restore the historical river and stream channels in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Biologist Dave Sutherland. “Restoring fish passage is a win-win for everyone. More open miles of streams means larger fish populations and more recreational opportunities for everyone to enjoy.”
Removing the Octoraro Creek Dam was one of the first of its kind in Maryland. This dam removal was unique because the removal was permitted to occur in the stream, rather than requiring experts to dewater the dam and pump the streamflow around the site. The dam was breeched gradually, allowing the ponded water to drain out slowly. Following dam removal, forested buffers were restored along the banks, reducing runoff into the creek and improving water quality.
Fish Passage in the Chesapeake Bay
In 1987, the Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed by states within the Chesapeake Bay region with commitments: "to provide for fish passage at dams, and remove stream blockages wherever necessary to restore passage for migratory fish.” In 2000, the Chesapeake Bay states renewed their commitment setting a goal to reopen a total of 1,357 miles of historic spawning grounds. Maryland 's portion of this goal is to reopen 388.65 miles of stream by 2010.
The Octoraro Creek dam removal is a result of the partnership with American Rivers, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Program, Chester Water Authority, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Department of the Environment, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Octoraro Watershed Association, Port Gun Club, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development.
For more information
Click here to listen to the NPR audio clip on the Octoraro Creek Dam Removal
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Fish Passage Program
Chesapeake Bay Program Fish Passage Restoration
Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fish Passage Program