“You have shad, striped bass, Atlantic sturgeon, herring. Are all coming in from the ocean. They can’t reproduce in salt water. They have to have freshwater, tidal conditions like right here on the Hudson,” said Fran Dunwell, Hudson River Estuary Coordinator for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Dunwell says many people who live and commute along the Hudson don’t realize the river itself serves as a sort-of highway for migrating fish.
Today the Wynats Kill empties into the Hudson River through a concrete culvert at a site that was once home to a mill.
But it wasn’t until a 6-foot dam was removed from the spillway that native river herring could travel up the stream to spawn. Dunwell says the removal is the first of its kind to help the herring.
“It doesn’t look like great habitat, but from a fish standpoint, a fish looks at this and they say ‘I can get through there and I can get to an area where I can spawn, and you can see there are cobbles, there are bricks on the ground there. There are twigs and trees,’” said Dunwell.
The work to remove the dam was completed in cooperation with environmental group Riverkeeper and the city of Troy.
The process to remove the dam was kickstarted three years ago by Riverkeeper patrol boat captain John Lipscomb, who spotted something unusual beside the dam.
“And so when I came up in ’13, there must have been some valve in that that had broken after ages, and so I saw a giant discharge of water under that old mill,” said Lipscomb.
So, Lipscomb took a closer look on land with two DEC officers and realized that what he had originally thought was an immovable dam was actually a hinged structure, and possibly easily removable.
And as it happens, DEC has a budget for barrier removal. Riverkeeper, DEC, and Troy then coordinated to lift the steel dam out of the river, restoring the tributary’s flow.
Lipscomb explained that every single tributary to the 155-mile Hudson River estuary has a barrier, either manmade or natural. DEC has identified more than 1,500 dams that affect tributaries.
While barrier removal to restore habitat is growing increasingly popular in other states, including neighboring Massachusetts, New York is lagging behind. The removal of the Troy dam is the first barrier removed in the river from Troy to the Atlantic.
“The first,” said Lipscomb. “And it’s also to Troy’s credit that…all of these city officials, they have plenty to do running their city. They have plenty to do…but somehow, these men and women found it important enough to give something back to the river,” said Lipscomb.
Mayor Patrick Madden said anything for the health of the river is good for the people of Troy. He says the Hudson is part of the city’s psyche.
“We’ve got so much waterfront here in Troy. We relate so much to the river. It touches so much of our history; not just the river but the tributaries as well. And if fact, this impediment is part of our history. It’s good to get it out of there and let nature take its course again,” said Madden.