Passage Panel Discussion
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Presenters & Panelists:
Dr. Luther Aadland, Minnesota Department of Natural
Steve Amaral, Alden Lab
Dr. Boyd Kynard, USGS Northeast Anadromous Fish Research
Gary Whelan, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
(Presentation abstracts listed above under oral presentations
for Sturgeon Passage.)
Moderator: Dave Bryson, USFWS New
York Field Office
Welcome to the Sturgeon Passage Panel Discussion session.
We’ve got a great group of panelists with diverse
knowledge and experience. I’ll repeat the question
when necessary. If you’ve got a general or what
if, type question those would be good to get started.
I’d ask you to hold off on the specific or detailed
questions and find a time to talk with the panels later.
Around the Great Lakes most populations are small, remnants
of what was once present. Most of these small populations
are likely not limited by spawning habitat, but rather
by too few fish and available spawning habitat is not
saturated even at sites with barriers. So where should
we focus our attention? Should fish passage be our first
priority where suitable upstream habitat exists even
though providing access to more habitats would reduce
spawner density and perhaps limit production, or should
we first focus on increasing the number of adults present?
Conversely, where are populations great enough that
passage is an obvious need at this time?
Unless there is no suitable sturgeon spawning habitat
upstream of a barrier, I don’t think we can ever
go wrong by providing passage. Even if the population
is small or we don’t know the size I still feel
that we should provide access to upstream spawning habitat.
Boyd, can you talk a little about target numbers.
No, I don’t feel I’m able to discuss that,
but I’d like to restate one action item from yesterday’s
fish passage breakout. That being the critical need
to develop basin specific restoration plans which detail
objectives such as prioritize passage issues and all
other issues related to sturgeon management.
Unless there is suitable and adequate habitat there
is little reason to attempt to restore sturgeon populations.
Since environmental conditions tend to vary from year
to year and sturgeon spawn infrequently there will be
years when spawning sites are suitable and years when
they are not. Therefore, I recommend we provide as much
potential spawning habitat as practical and allow the
fish to choose and utilize the habitat they prefer.
With regard to basin specific planning, in Michigan
waters of Lake Superior, the two rivers with sturgeon
are within the Ottawa National Forest. Currently we
are under a court order to cooperatively identify and
explore opportunities to improve habitat on these federal
lands. So, the opportunity is here if there are some
More and more court orders are forcing federal agencies
to develop partnerships and coordinate work with many
parties to develop projects.
Using the new turbine design that passes juvenile sturgeon
downstream, what was your turbine efficiency percentage
and how does the industry accept this design?
The efficiency of our turbine design was 89%, which
is slightly below conventional turbines. This issue
is being addressed now since the next step is to develop
a prototype for field use which needs to be comparable
in energy production to existing turbines. We are talking
with folks about potential sites for these field trials.
At a site in the state of New York, a settlement agreement
was drafted that included the installation of our turbine
as a fish passage measure. For this installation, we
will need to make some design changes to improve power
production, without compromising fish survival, making
it more feasible from an economic standpoint.
With most conventional hydropower facilities the place
to implement modifications to pass fish are the turbines
on the by-pass channels or leading/power canal. The
middle of the river powerhouse offers few, if any, option
to successfully pass fish at high efficiency.
Doesn’t that still leave us with an impingement
problem at the powerhouse with the larger fish?
That potential exists but there may be ways to deal
with the larger fish. They have better sustained swimming
speeds than small fish and we may be able to utilize
that capability to improve passage. Maybe even a collection
gallery type system. It is not practical to utilize
a 3 mile long louver type system to pass large fish,
since you’ll have high mortality rates. We haven’t
really explored how to deal with fish going over the
spillway, but the survival is likely low.
Are we doing much assessment of downstream passage safety
and how to improve spillway design?
We have done some work with shortnose sturgeon which
are a good surrogate for lake sturgeon up to a certain
size based on swimming ability and morphology. Back
in 90’s we did a lot of telemetry on adult shortnose
sturgeon upstream of dam at Holyoke. Our objective was
to gather info during the relicensing to determine if
there was a need for downstream protection of the federally
endangered and thus, protected, shortnose sturgeon.
We gathered information on the mortality rate going
through the turbines and over spillway. If an adult
or large juvenile (30 inches or so TL) goes through
the turbines there is 100% mortality, whereas we found
that those fish going over the spillway had 100% survival.
We recaptured some of the fish going over the spillway
and there were injuries to these fish but they did survive.
The facility at Holyoke has a nice smooth spillway landing,
which is unlike many other facilities which have large
energy diffusers (concrete blocks) or retaining walls
that cause very high mortality.
Not all hydropower facilities are created equal. Some
dams have gates and release structures some of which
will put the stem right at the floor where the water
comes out rather than off to the side. Need to talk
with engineers on sight to know how the facility operates.
Also need to consider whether there is enough water
being spilled at the right time of year to pass fish.
Some spillways only have a trickle of water which doesn’t
allow fish to pass over, and if they did, they would
probably die upon impact.
I visited a spillway in spring during high water and
they had only 3 of 40+ gates open and water was jetting
over the dam onto the diffuser. Any fish passing through
was dead. I asked why only 3 gates were open and was
told it was the easiest way to operate. In some cases
we just need to work with the operators to make them
aware of fish passage concerns.
How do we transition from lab tests to the field applicability?
For some technologies it isn’t that hard, for
others it is more difficult. For example, at Hadley
Falls there is a long history of developing effective
fish passage facilities. They conducted louver and angled
bar-rack studies in the lab and came up with some good
information. Now they need to apply this information
to the field where flows aren’t as laminar, it
is a much larger system, and environmental cues that
affect fish behavior are more variable. At Hadley Falls,
they put in full depth louver to test with several fish
species, primarily shortnose sturgeon and American eel.
Pilot studies are usually the best approach to find
out if a technology will achieve goals without the expense
of constructing a full-scale system. It’s not
an easy thing to do and there are trade-offs between
the biological and engineering aspects of any project.
Steve and I have done small scale lab experiments and
we progress from there. At Conte we are scaling up,
while still in the lab we are much closer to actual
flows and the environment the fish will encounter. I
see this as an incremental approach to actual field
work. We want to increase the probability of success
to 90-95% or as much as possible before put an application
in the field. We’re trying to do everything possible
using an incremental approach to ensure there are no
unexpected setbacks. For the next 2 years, we will work
on a larger scale by-pass system within the laboratory
and in year 3 work with agencies to build some structure
at Hadley, and then evaluate that operation. Before
we ask or require a power company to spend a lot of
money we want to be darn near sure we’ve got it
With all the dams built many years ago reaching the
end of their life, how can we start to encourage decommissioning
First, is maintenance cost. Dams cost a lot to maintain
and cost will continue to increase. In Minnesota we
have used that as leverage, by covering the cost of
Luther is absolutely right. Cost is the key to removal
and decommissioning of dams. Economics drives the process.
In many cases the dams are owned by municipalities and
then the state becomes the ward of the dam and ends
up paying the cost of the dam. Unfortunately, there
are federal dollars available to fix and maintain, but
almost never to remove them. So they get fixed with
no consideration for the next time the dam fails.
We recently had a dam failure. FEMA came in and offered
to rebuild the failed dam exactly as it was previously.
Minnesota DNR threatened to deny a permit to do that
since we now had fish passage upriver and the intended
function of the dam for ice control was questionable.
Minnesota DNR proposed an alternative. The dam breach
had resulted in a loss of over a mile of river that
Minnesota DNR wanted reclaimed. Our proposal would restore
of the river channel by creating rapids at the site
of the dam and largely remove the structure. In the
end FEMA changed their position and funded the removal.
Many states are grappling with dam removal issues and
who will pay for it. Some states have been more successful
than others working with federal agencies to consider
alternatives and secure funding.
Can you give us an estimate of costs of dam removal
and by-pass channel construction?
It can be less expensive that you would think. The two
by-pass type fishways were each about 30K. The main
channel rapids vary widely based on the volume of material
and the hydraulic height of the dam. The Grand Forks
dam modification used 80,000 tons of rock, it had a
scour hole up to 30’ deep, was a 400’ wide
river, and that cost $4.7 million. The Mid Town dam
modification cost $235,000. The North Dam cost $117K.
One large one required 20K tons of material and cost
only $169K. In this case the city had been virtually
inundated during the 1997 flood and FEMA bought out
homes in floodplain. We saved a lot of money by using
clean concrete materials from the destruction of the
structures for the base and had them remove the rebar.
The concrete base was covered by three feet of field
stone so the concrete could not be seen. In western
Minnesota we have a lot of glacial till nearby so cost
will depend on proximity of materials. I budget $40/
yard for materials on average.
The proximity to the stone materials can make a big
difference in cost.
The biggest main channel rapids we built had a dam hydraulic
height of about 13’ high. Most are around 10’.
At one site we are currently removing a dam and building
rapids upstream. Due to bank stability issues we are
required to return river to same crest elevation so
the rapids are being built upstream. Because it is upstream
there are deposited materials that the large materials
are placed on top using less material than if we had
filled the very large scour hole in the tailwater.
Fish naturally find the main channel rapids but on
the bypass channels it is critical to have the entrance
in the immediate tail water area. These bypasss channels
pass only a portion of the flow (one passed about 20%
the other about 6% of the mean annual flow) and on larger
rivers the spawning population can become bottlenecked
and vulnerable at certain times of year. If a large
number of migrating fish are forced into a small fishway,
it is likely that only a proportion of them will be
able to pass due to this bottleneck effect and vulnerability
What is the time frame for planning and what is the
permit process like? In the presentation I noticed heavy
equipment in stream?
Construction does cause some disturbance but our staff
from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recognize
the long-term benefits of restored fish passage and
even contributed funds to one of the projects There
have been regulatory growing pains. The interstate waters
(Red River) where two state agencies are involved. We
have needed to develop physical model of the rapids
even though we had empirical data from previously built
rapids. There are hoops to jump through and just need
to cover the permit process.
Planning time frame varies a lot, sometimes it happens
quickly and other times really slowly. First thing you
need to do is to plant the seed at which time you may
get ridiculed. One needs to be patient and not get discouraged.
During early meetings on the first large dam conversion,
the idea of converting the dam to a rapids was not very
well received. Some folks wanted a bigger dam with fencing
to keep people away. But once we did the first project,
subsequent projects sold themselves and community leaders
helped get funding to modify other dams.
How do you figure out the entrance level of the by-pass
channels when dealing with changing water levels below
This was the key issue on the first such by-pass project.
The dam had no real operational/management plan and
it had a 4’ fluctuation in the pool. We used a
cattle crossing culvert and put boulders within culvert
and staggered them to act as a baffle. A flood in 1997
washed the dam out and left the fishway behind. The
dam was quickly rebuilt with FEMA funds following a
Federal Disaster Declaration. I surveyed reservoir and
tailwater levels under high and low pool conditions
and calculated velocity and discharge that would be
seen in the fishway. Based on the range of head I designed
the entrance to be passable under all water levels.
A large boulder was placed at the entrance to narrow
it and limit the amount of flow during high reservoir
This shows the importance of having good flow data available
for the site.
Since we often don’t know how many sturgeon are
in a system, are there potential problems for the sturgeon
with trapping and holding large numbers of large fish
in a trap and transfer style fish passage device?
Fish ladder and trap technology and engineering is well
developed. Normally during construction if separation
and sorting are needed, they will build a sorting pen
that shunts fish off to a sorting area. As far as damage
to fish we have all N. Am sturgeon in our lab. We have
sturgeon up to 30 lbs. and we handle these fish all
the time similar to how they would be handled in a separate
and sort and transfer facility. Sturgeons are very tolerant
and hardy and I don’t see that as a problem. With
shortnose sturgeon we have had no problems handling
up to 40 a day and they are handled a lot.
The biggest issue seems to be funding for personnel
to man such a facility. The manpower and/or time required
to sort or transfer fish can be costly and that is a
bigger limitation than the technology aspects of fishway
design. If there are issues with exotics, lampreys,
etc. then the passive fishway design that Luther has
shown may not be feasible. For situations where exotics
are an issue, a sorting and transfer facility at the
lowest dam would be a big advantage.
Are there guidelines for how much water is need in a
There are also guidelines for fish attractant water
so fish can find it as opposed to tail race. Keep in
mind that with the exception of Luther’s presentation,
we have discussed upstream and downstream passage separately.
Typically, we don’t send fish back down the upstream
facility. Folks need to be aware that there are generally
different pathways for upstream and downstream movement.
Regarding the exotics issue in Minnesota I have been
involved with the Mississippi navigation study. In that
system there are 2 Asian carp species present and the
bighead have already entered Minnesoata waters. The
general consensus of biologists on the fish passage
team was that these Asian carp would be the first to
make it through the lock system and that they ultimately
would make it upstream. We believe that what we really
need to do is benefit native species by providing passage
so that they are able to utilize key upstream habitat.
The current system favors the Asian carp since they
are among the strongest swimmers and the reservoirs
provide them with ideal habitat.
Gary could you follow-up on the lamprey program. Earlier
you made a comment that the current chemical control
is a viable option.
The current chemical treatment program for lamprey is
very fine tuned. There are different camps of support
for or against the use of chemicals for lamprey control
and these will persist. Chemical treatments are very
expensive especially on large systems; however, the
use of barriers is also expensive especially when considering
the cost of manning a facility. The duration of time
needed to man a station seems to continually increase.
It is no longer just March - July, but extends before
and after those months. It seems as though we are asked
to operate our weir facility on the Platte River, which
we use for our coho program, but which also serves as
a lamprey barrier, longer each year. That increases
the cost considerably. In my opinion, on an ecosystem
basis and at present prices chemical treatment is currently
a better option than barriers or dams. There is a proposal
to put in 48 sea lamprey barriers in the state of Michigan.
At the present time, I am not personally in agreement
with those who are advocating the use of barriers as
a means of controlling sea lamprey over maintaining
passage and using chemical control.
I guess the take home message would be that there is
more than one way to solve a problem. Always need to
consider alternatives, pluses and minuses for each project.
Alternatives may be identified in a FERC process, a
state document, or continuing with chemical control.
No barrier would be put in place without the support
of the jurisdictional agency and other partners, and
all are evaluated within the Great Lakes Fishery Commission
One challenge regarding barriers is how long will we
be able to maintain the effort on a sort/transfer facility?
I don’t know if agencies have the resolve or finances
to operate one or many such facilities for 40 years.
Another point with fishways is that when installed they
need to be monitored to determine if they are functioning
as planned. So, there needs to be a plan and budget
in place to evaluate the fishway for several years.
Often environmental conditions (e.g. high or low water
years) influence how long this evaluation needs to take
What is the main philosophical question to be answered
prior implementing a project?
Will providing passage/access to upstream habitat to
fish result in a benefit to the ecosystem?
It is critical to thoroughly assess need and available
resources to ensure that you are expending your efforts
on projects that will give you the biggest gains.
Coming from a perspective from northeastern U.S. where
for 40 years upstream fish passages devices were installed
before the first downstream device was installed; you
really need to consider both upstream and downstream
My biggest concern is that we look to fish passage when
we should look toward dam/barrier removal. Fish passage
often is easier to implement than removal but doesn’t
always address the fundamental problem. If we only pass
fish to more degraded reservoir habitat we’ve
gained little. Habitat inundated by reservoirs may be
key to reestablishing populations.
I’d like to add a little perspective to working
through the FERC process. Regarding dam removal, on
one project I am involved with FERC did an economic
analysis and under all scenarios the economics showed
it to be a losing proposition. However, FERC re-licensed
the facility without considering dam removal and over
many concerns raised by natural resource agencies. How
do we deal with that?
There are general costs for fishway installation, and
there are also ballpark costs for dam removal. It is
important to have an engineer available and to work
as a team to help examine the alternatives. A key is
to document the decisions made along the way. We should
always be able to justify our decisions and allow others
to understand why we took the path we did.
I think it is important that we continue to advocate
for and press FERC to consider dam removal as an option.
This is always an option for projects in Michigan. We
need to provide these comments and keep it in the records
that removal should be an option. It may take years,
but at some point someone in charge will take notice
that these projects are inefficient and costly, and
they will realize that dam removal is not being explored
or weighed as it should be. If we don’t continue
to request dam removal analysis in our comments we are
as culpable as FERC for not considering it as an option.
At some point it will be clear or unavoidable to some
senator or someone to recognize that the licensing of
a project that is losing lots of money is not a better
use of public interest when a particular fishery may
be worth far more than the project.
Why is relicensing often the least expensive alternative
despite the fact that a hydropower projects is losing
Unfortunately, from a policy perspective we are currently
in a half regulated/half de-regulated world at present.
That makes things difficult. If it is a regulated utility
they could pass the cost of removal off to cusumer because
it is a true cost of doing business. It should be no
different than deregulating a gas plant or nuclear plant,
but for some reason, dams are treated differently. In
Michigan, the process goes through a state Public Service
Commission. The reason they don’t want to remove
a dam even if it is losing money, from the company and
short term profit perspective, is that the shareholders
lose less money by relicensing the dam than they would
through removal. This approach only takes into account
shareholders and does not take into account the greater
public interest, which FERC is required to consider.
It even gets worse than this, the unregulated utilities,
which include many small hydro companies, are essentially
paper companies that have no assets. We actually went
to court to oppose dam licenses transfers from a viable
company that had assets to deal with dam failure and
removal to a company with zero assets. What will happen
to public interest when the company folds/walks. The
circuit court sided with the utilities sighting legal
deference, a decision which I still don’t agree
with. The reason they give for the decision is that
they say it is a prudent decision for the investors.
We’ve seen situations where you may have to allow
the dam operator to continue but to put money into an
escrow fund. Anytime you’re dealing with low economic
considerations you need to find creative solutions.
If you let that facility go into bankruptcy it can get
really bogged down for a long time. Finding alternative
solutions for low revenue project can be a key.
We are developing a critical lack of engineering expertise
specific to fish passage and hydropower issues in the
east and midwest. The USFWS has developed a very capable
staff over the years, but they are retiring and moving
on. Yet there appear to be no engineers replacing these
individuals with the specific expertise needed. Further,
I see no institutional support or interest in replacing
these individuals. I am really concerned about the lack
of expertise in this area, at least in the northeast
The USFWS does offer some engineering training through
University of Mass. at the Conte Lab. So if you have
staff in your agencies with interest in hydraulics and
fish passageways, have them get in touch with Boyd to
learn more about what is available. This is really a
specialized science so it is not just for anyone with
a civil engineering background and some knowledge in
hydraulics. Fishways and design require specific knowledge.
What is the status of the Michigan DNR engineering staff
and what is the outlook for the future?
In Michigan DNR our staff learned on the job with projects
on the St. Joe and Grand River system, with assistance
from folks from NMFS on the west coast and Ben Rizzo
(USFWS) on the east coast. However, these individuals
have recently retired and to my knowledge our agency
has no plans to replace these individuals. So it is
unclear how our agency will handle issues of fish passage,
despite the fact that some of us have expressed a real
concern for this lack of expertise.
Dave: Steve, would you discuss the role of a consultant
as it applies to this situation?
I’ll give my phone number to everyone. In the
private industry there are many who have been hired
by utilities to address fish passage for many years.
It is almost always in consultation with agency experts
providing feedback and input. This collaboration is
done on all projects. I also see a lack of upcoming
young engineers. However, there are increasingly more
in the private sector that are willing to help out.
Luther, what engineers have you used for your projects?
Has it been the Army Corps of Engineers?
In the Minnesota DNR, I have had to learn the language
of engineers to interact and then have done a lot of
the basic designs. The Army Corps of Engineers has funded
a number of these projects with flood control dollars
and they have been good to work with. They have a large
staff with good engineering and CAD expertise. We have
also worked with private consultants. In many cases
I have done the calculations and basic layout and the
engineers transfer it to CAD, check calculations, handled
the logistics and compiled the specifications.
The training most engineers lack for our projects, has
to do with fluvial geomorphology and the ecology of
rivers and we teach courses in those subjects. Engineers
from the Corps, other agencies, and private industry
have attended these workshops and that has been very
helpful for these types of projects. It is a little
different from the typical civil engineer training that
deals with open channel hydrology and fluid dynamics,
and not much river system information. Generally, when
I work with engineers we each bring our expertise and
provide feedback that strengthens the final product.
It would be nice to have more people specifically assigned
to the dam removal projects.
I agree with Boyd that there aren’t enough passage
engineers out there to help with fishways. I’ve
looked for resources, and the northeast is the only
place where I can find any. I’m with the USFWS
and we continue to be asked to show the need for this
specialty within our agency.
You’re right on. Clearly the southern and midwest
regions of the country have big fish passage needs and
the folks in the northeast are stretched too thin. I
think the need is clearly there.
Seems like we are on the threshold of institutionally
getting to the point where you are able to take action
to enact fish passage projects rather than just talk
about it like we have done for the last decade or so.
I am glad to see us approaching that point and implementing
From the downstream perspective, there aren’t
a lot of answers for lake sturgeon passage since there
hasn’t been a lot of work with this species. To
improve downstream passage, it needs to be a collaborative
effort and include multiple sturgeon species, since
the problems are the same, regardless of species, and
morphology and behavior are often similar. There are
a lot of tools available, including laboratories studies,
computational fluid dynamics modeling, field studies,
and basic migrational tagging studies. For downstream
passage of younger fish, we don’t know enough
at this point and there is more work to be done.
I think sturgeon are a good poster child for rivers
in general, and that a lot of what we are doing now
will not come to fruition for years. But I also don’t
think we have seen the full extent of the damage we
have done to our rivers nationwide. When we have fish
that live to 100 years many processes continue to deteriorate
over time and resilience is lost over time as well.
I think we need to look long into the future for what
we are doing. I believe rivers have been so damaged
that we will continue to see declines in the short term
and to reverse the trend we need to take action in a
big way now.
Lake sturgeon rehabilitation in the Great Lakes will
not occur without fish passage, so we do need to address
this issue. Hatcheries are not the solution. We need
to develop self-sustaining populations. In some respects,
the engineering side is the simple side, the policy
and people side can be the hard side and we shouldn’t
overlook this. Fortunately, sturgeon is the perfect
species to address fish passage issues. People are enamored
with sturgeon. Other species don’t grab the headlines
and create the interest that sturgeons do. Just try
to get someone excited about logperch. We also need
to consider all potential partners, some may be strange
bedfellows, but their interests can help us achieve
our goal of fish passage or dam removal.
I think we’ve received a wide perspective on fish
passage issues, let’s thank our speakers.
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