Dams’ removal helps fish migrate at White Clay Creek
Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 23:08
University project can expand to remove six dilapidated dams at White Clay Creek Park, opening up miles of river for fish to swim upstream near Newark.
Gerald Kauffman, the project director of Water Resources Agency, a part of the School of Public Policy, said the university was one of six institutions chosen for a grant provided by American Rivers and the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration out of 200 applications.
The dam was constructed during the American Revolution in 1777, and since then, fish have not been able to swim up the White Clay Creek toward Pennsylvania for migration, Kauffman said, which is one of the Agency's biggest concerns.
“It’s a very young science about remodeling dams in the United States,” Kauffman said. “It used to be about building dams and now it’s about removing them.”
The spawning habitat is where the fish reproduce and once the dam is removed it will open up passageways for them to do so, said senior Elisa Sarantschin, a coastal geology and environmental science major. She interned for the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, this past summer to research the American shad fish which live in the creek.
The six upstream dams will open fish passages for 14 miles that go inward toward the Piedmont and the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line, she said.
“I think that White Clay Creek will really benefit from this expansion,” Sarantschin said. “It’s a big thing especially for the American shad. It opens up 3.5 miles of the river and also opens 42 acres of spawning habitat for the fish in the waterway so that the fish can pass from New Castle County.”
Kauffman said the project team has been researching the area and will start removing the first dam in early November. This is when there is little traffic in the park because it is the end of golf season, he said.
He said he wants the project to be finished by March or April, in time for fish migration up the White Clay Creek.
Within the next five years, the grant will fund the removal of six more dams.
“The short-term goal is to remove a crumbling dam along the White Clay Creek,” Kauffman said. “The long-term goal is to remove any obstructions in the creek to the passage of any native fish there which are the American shad and to restore the fish breed.”
He said he will be relying on university students for research and field work.
Besides removing the dams, the project includes researching what happens to the streams after their removal. Kauffman said it is an area where little research has been conducted. The park will remain open while dams are being removed.
He said the geology and engineering department are involved in the project. One of the reasons the university received the grants is because there are many people with expertise at the school who will contribute to the project.
University students working on the project also get the benefit of hands-on experience working in the field and have a better chance of finding a job upon graduating, Kauffman said.
Part of the funding will go toward graduate students finishing their field surveys of the creek, he said. These measurements include dimensions of the creek, the depth of the sediment and the quality of water.
The students also have the opportunity to finish engineering drawings which determine where the dam is going to be removed and where all the pieces of the dam need to be moved and what shape the stream will be, Kauffman said.