Blogs > Ecology > In landmark effort to restore migratory fish, Riverkeeper and DEC team up to remove 2 dams on Hudson River tributaries

In landmark effort to restore migratory fish, Riverkeeper and DEC team up to remove 2 dams on Hudson River tributaries

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The removal of 2 obsolete dams makes way for renewed spawning habitat on Quassaick Creek in Newburgh and Furnace Brook in Westchester.

Following our successful 2016 project on Wynants Kill in Troy, these are the 2nd and 3rd barriers removed along the Hudson for the purpose of fish passage.

dam removal

Photo: Jess Deitz – www.jldeitz.com

Riverkeeper scored two major achievements this fall in our landmark effort to remove obsolete dams along the Hudson and restore ancestral spawning grounds for migratory fish.

Together with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and local partners, we’ve completed the removal of two dams near the Hudson River, one on the Quassaick Creek in Newburgh, the other on Furnace Brook in Westchester.

Photo: Jess Deitz – www.jldeitz.com

Riverkeeper and the DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program have been teaming up with local communities with the aim of restoring healthy, free-flowing creeks and providing habitat for severely depleted populations of migratory fish, including river herring and American eel. Herring and other fish spawned in Hudson River tributaries spend much of their lives in the Atlantic, where they are a vital part of the coastal ecosystem.

Our first success was the removal of a barrier on Wynants Kill in 2016 in partnership with the City of Troy – the first dam removed along the Hudson expressly for fish passage.

Now, in the fall of 2020, we’ve completed two more projects.

Quassaick Creek

On October 27, 2020, the Strooks Felt Dam was dismantled on the Quassaick Creek in Newburgh. Work continued over the week to remove the rubble from the dam and to regrade the stream bed and stabilize the banks.

This dam and earlier ones at that location prevented fish from moving upstream for about 300 years. Its removal restores over a mile of habitat for river herring and eel.

Collaborating on this project were the DEC Hudson River Estuary Program, Orange County and City of Newburgh (the owners of the dam); the Town of New Windsor; Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, and Steelways Inc., which allowed access to the site.

Engineering firm Princeton Hydro led the project design. Contractor RiverLogic Solutions carried out the work of removing the 106-year-old, 7-foot, 100-foot-long, steel-reinforced concrete dam. View a slideshow of the project.

Photo: Jess Deitz – www.jldeitz.com

Furnace Brook (Jamawissa Creek)

On Tuesday, November 10, another dam came down – on Furnace Brook in Westchester County’s Oscawana Park in the Town of Cortlandt.

Photo: Riverkeeper

The removal of this 5-foot-high, 75-foot-wide dam will return ancestral habitat to migratory fish that was lost due to human alteration of the creek.

The waterway was known to Native Americans who lived in the area as the Jamawissa Creek, meaning “Place of Small Beaver.” In 1734 it was named Furnace Brook.

“The fish have been trapped on these tributaries by these dams that no longer serve any purpose,” says Krista Birenkrant, Senior Grants Manager at Riverkeeper. “We’re trying to get a groundswell of community support to remove these obsolete dams that are no longer serving any purpose except blocking fish.”

As soon as a path was cleared, we spotted two fish – white suckers, a freshwater species – darting up to the previously unreachable part of the brook. We can’t wait to come back in the spring and see whether herring, returning from the ocean, are migrating upstream, as they did on the Wynants Kill.

As an estuary that acts as a connection between freshwater streams and the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River is an engine of life for the ocean. Our iconic migratory species are in steep decline, as are freshwater species, here and around the world. Globally, one in three freshwater species is at risk of extinction. A global movement is seeking to save biodiversity and abundance in the face of the 6th Extinction, a mass die-off of life on the planet that is occurring at an unprecedented pace in the 3.5-billion-year history of life on Earth.

Removing dams on Hudson River tributaries increases the resilience of freshwater ecosystems – a profound act of restoration in the face of this global crisis.

“It’s historic,” says George Jackman, Riverkeeper Senior Habitat Restoration Manager. “We’re changing the course of history right now.”

Collaborators on the project, in addition to the DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program, are Westchester County, the Westchester County Parks Department, owner of the dam; the Town of Cortlandt, and the Friends of the McAndrews Estate. Furnace Brook runs through the historic former estate, which became the county’s Oscawana Park.

Funding for both projects was provided from the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the DEC.

Watch News12’s report: Westchester dam removal to help threatened fish species thrive

Learn more

Visit Riverkeeper.org/dams to learn more about the effort to remove obsolete dams in the Hudson Valley. You can watch Jon Bowermaster’s short film “Undamming the Hudson River,” find maps of existing dams and find out how to “Join the Dam Movement.”

Photo: Jess Deitz – www.jldeitz.com

Contact: Leah Rae, Riverkeeper Media Specialist, lrae@riverkeeper.org
 

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