Why does FRWA assess stream crossings?
All forms of wildlife require routes of passage within their habitat in order to find food and shelter. Many forms of aquatic wildlife such as fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and insect nymphs also require the ability to move up and down the length of their stream habitat. However, human transportation needs require building infrastructure that allows us to safely pass over these streams. Structures such as bridges allow us to drive over streams on an elevated platform, and culverts divert streamflow to pass underneath roads.
Unfortunately these structures can interrupt aquatic wildlife corridors if they are not installed or maintained properly. Moreover, failure of a damaged or undersized crossing during flood conditions can pose risks to public safety.
By their nature, rivers and streams are very responsive to changes in hydrology, or the movement of water throughout the landscape. This means that rivers change their course naturally over time, and that water can (and does) transport debris and sediments downstream. These facts can be problematic when part of the river channel is confined to a specific path, such as a tube or tunnel.
FRWA Programs Director Aimee Petras coordinates our road-stream crossing assessments according to the protocol set up in 2015 by the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative (NAACC). Seasonal staff members Paige Vichiola and Heather Geist are both currently active as lead observers.
Interns Heather Geist and Paige Vichiola have returned for the 2021 summer season. They have completed all road-stream crossings assessments in the town of New Hartford and will be presenting a report to town officials soon. Paige and Heather have also been assessing crossings in Burlington and Canton this year, and they plan to resume assessing crossings as soon as streamflow lowers to appropriate levels. They intend to continue assessments within the Cherry Brook watershed in Canton and Barkhamsted in late summer and early fall. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.
-2015 to 2019
FRWA became involved with NAACC in 2015 when Stephen Burger and Patrick Calvert completed the necessary training in order to become Lead Observers. They conducted assessments on Hop Brook in Simsbury as well as on several tributaries in New Hartford and Canton. In 2016 Scott Birmingham conducted assessments in Norfolk at Mad River and Mill Brook, as well as Sandy Brook in Colebrook and several unnamed tributaries. Thomas Griffith conducted over one hundred assessments in 2017 within the Salmon Brook West Branch watershed in Hartland. He also assessed many crossings throughout Barkhamsted with help from Stephen Banulski. Thomas continued work in New Hartford, Canton, and Torrington in 2018 within the Nepaug River watershed. Interns Heather Geist and Paige Vichiola joined our team in 2019, and they continued assessments throughout New Hartford. All assessments are uploaded into the NAACC Stream Crossing database.
-2010 to 2011
How does a fish cross the road?
Partly to answer this question, in 2010 FRWA started a three year project in upper watershed towns, chiefly Becket, Otis, and Sandisfield. Our mission was to address recommendations by the MA Department of Ecological Restoration and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission for documenting water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Farmington.
A primary goal is to spot stream crossings that bar fish travel.
Structures such as culverts, conveying a stream under a road, sometimes sit too far above the streambed for fish to navigate—especially species that are poor jumpers. “Perched” culverts can cut streams into isolated segments that are too small and too vulnerable to ensure good long-term survival for stream animals. Documenting problem crossings is a first step toward installing a better one, when the time comes for replacement.
In 2010, summer staffer Mike Jastremski, intern Hart Rotblatt, and volunteer Jerry Eaves from Pioneer Valley Trout Unlimited hit the roads in Massachusetts. Using a survey method practiced throughout the state, they evaluated about 60 crossings. In 2011, the work was taken up by Alison Dixon (who also works for the Housatonic Valley Association), again helped by Jerry.
Our other project partners include Carrie Banks of the Massachusetts Riverways Program and Scott Jackson of UMass Amherst for training, as well as David Carlow and Meshell Bordeleau for hosting us at Tolland State Forest, plus all who gave of their time to talk with us over the seasons. Additional help came from the Housatonic Valley Association and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.
This project is funded by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, which is supported through the purchase of Massachusetts environmental license plates.
-2005 to 2007- Nod Brook and Sandy Brook Culvert Projects
From 2005-2007, FRWA participated in two culvert passage projects with the CT Department of Environmental Protection Fisheries program. Both were funded by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Labor was provided by CT DEP and logistical support by FRWA.
One of these was in Nod Brook, an important tributary of the Farmington River that should be home to more fish, particularly trout and Atlantic Salmon. But its 200-foot long double-box culvert under Route 10, just south of the Avon Wellness Center/Healthtrax building, was identified by Steve Gephard, a fish passage expert with the CT DEP Diadromous Fish Program, as a significant barrier to fish. The culvert’s dark passageways were too shallow and their flow too uniform for fish migration, especially at summer low flow. To reverse the fish fortunes in this culvert, DEP Fisheries installed concrete baffles that deepened and improved streamflow. Immediately upon completion of the project, fish were seen swimming through the culvert. Now, commuters both on and under Route 10 have a usable route! [Many thanks to CT DOT for allowing this work in one of their culverts. And to Anchor Management, who allowed us to store equipment on their property in Avon.]
Sandy Brook in Colebrook has valuable upstream habitat for fish coming up from the Farmington River—it is even a stocking site for Atlantic salmon fry. But there was a problem: a bridge over Sandy Brook includes a bank-to-bank concrete apron to stabilize its footings. The apron covers the native streambed, and flow over the concrete is too shallow, uniform, and fast for good fish passage. Also, a vertical drop at the apron’s downstream lip obstructed fish coming upstream. So rebar cribs, welded together to form a grid and filled with rocks, were installed to deepen and break up the uniform shallow flow. Half of the stream bank was blocked off to further concentrate and improve flow. The cribs, and a rock ladder into the apron, were installed in August 2006. In September 2007, more rock was added to replace rocks that washed out in the floods of April, 2007. Both the Nod Brook and Sandy Brook sites are inspected periodically and maintained as needed.
Culvert Stream-Crossing Assessments
We survey stream-crossings throughtout the Farmington River Watershed using the protocols from the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative. All of our data is uploaded to the NAACC database.