"One of Those Once-In-A-Lifetime Projects" To Restore a RI River
In the 1760s—before the United States existed—three dams were installed along the Pawcatuck River in Rhode Island. The dams were meant to support growing nearby industries, like the textile plant that eventually used the river as a dumping ground for its dyes. But even after the Industrial Revolution wound down and the plants disappeared, the dams in the Pawcatuck River remained, preventing migratory fish from traveling along the river, and between it and the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
Fast-forward to 2010, just 8 years ago. Local conservancy groups, deciding it was past time to restore access to the watershed river for the fish that had long ago called it home, teamed up with federal agencies to start the process of adjusting or fully removing those three original dams.
The first dam, White Rock, was removed in 2015. The second, Potter Hill, couldn't be fully removed, but was fixed to allow fish to swim through it. And finally, Bradford dam was replaced by a "fishway," which opened up the river without doing damage to the areas that the dam had long protected.
The dam removals are win-win situations for both the natural environment and the residents who live near the river. "It will improve fishing and boating," says Scott Comings, associate state director for the Conservancy's Rhode Island program. "and there was pretty much unanimous support for it."
With the completion of this effort, which Comings calls "one of those once-in-a-lifetime projects," fish species including American shad, river herring, and sea-run brook trout will soon be able to access the entire Pawcatuck River for the first time in centuries.