By ecoRI News staff
EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A ribbon-cutting ceremony recently celebrated the completion of the Ten Mile River Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project, designed to restore river herring to the watershed and provide river connectivity for other fish species.
The June 19 event took place at the Hunt’s Mill Dam historic site, one of the three dams where fish ladders were built along the river. The 56-square-mile Ten Mile River watershed originates in Massachusetts, crosses into Rhode Island, flows through East Providence and then enters the Seekonk River — one of the headwaters of Narragansett Bay — at Omega Pond Dam.
The project was built in two phases. Construction of fish passages at Turner Reservoir and Hunt’s Mill Dams began in unison and finished in September 2012. The Omega Pond Dam started later and was completed in April 2015.
The 4-foot-wide fish ladders are concrete waterways with wooden baffles that allow fish to swim to their natural spawning habitat. Migrant slots also were cut into the existing spillways at Omega Pond and Turner Reservoir to facilitate downstream migration of juvenile fish. A fish trap was installed at Hunt’s Mill Dam to relocate excess fish to other watersheds.
The restoration project provides access to more than 340 acres of spawning and nursery habitat, and about 3 miles of riverine spawning habitat for river herring. Based on Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) projections, these habitat areas have the potential to support a fish run of more than 200,000 river herring.
Historically, the Ten Mile River, along with the Blackstone and Pawtuxet rivers, all hosted large runs of anadromous fish — fish that live as adults in salt water, but spawn in the fresh waters where they were born. After dams were constructed, these fish runs dwindled greatly. Each dam created a new obstacle for the returning fish and as a result, by World War II, many of Narragansett Bay’s largest fish runs were barely a memory.
Ten Mile River in East Providence was dammed at its mouth early in the 20th century to create Omega Pond, an industrial water supply. Thanks to the efforts of local fishermen, however, remnants of the original fish runs have remained intact. Every spring, adult river herring have returned to the base of the dam, and local fishermen and volunteers from the Ten Mile River Watershed Council and the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association have caught them and hauled them over the dam to spawn in the waters of Omega Pond.
The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the Middleboro-Lakeville Herring Fishery Commission also have led critical stocking efforts in the upper regions of the watershed, which helped sustain fish populations throughout the years in both states.
DEM currently manages 21 fish runs, and the state agency is working with various partners on other proposed anadromous habitat restoration projects on the Pawtuxet, Woonasquatucket and Pawcatuck rivers. River herring are an essential part of Rhode Island’s ecosystem and their protection is important to the natural resource landscape of the state, according to state officials.
The Ten Mile River project brought together a diverse community that included the Army Corps of Engineers, DEM, the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, the city of East Providence, EPA, NOAA, Ten Mile River Watershed Council and Save The Bay.
The total project cost is nearly $9 million, including real-estate credits and work in kind. Federal funding paid for about 65 percent of the cost.