The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Community-based Restoration Program provided the Third Herring Brook Restoration Project with a second year of funding to focus on improving fish passage at Jacobs Pond Dam, the headwaters of the Third Herring Brook. The first year of this funding round went towards the Peterson Pond Dam removal in November 2020.

Eric Hutchins from NOAA, photo credit Sara Grady.

The goal for the $20,415 of funding is to hire contractors to develop a scope of work, engineering, and design for the installation of a fish ladder on Jacobs Pond Dam. The Town of Norwell Conservation Commission is providing $30,000 in matching funds. The announcement of these federal funds is timely because the Town just had an inspection of the dam completed, as required by the Office of Dam Safety. We will be able to dovetail our ecological restoration efforts with the repairs that are needed to the dam. Next week, the NSRWA and NOAA will be meeting with the Town of Norwell Conservation Department and DPW to discuss next steps, and later in the week, our ecologist will be meeting with our partners from NOAA and Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries at the site to discuss potential approaches to the project.

The removal of Peterson Pond Dam completed the three dam removals on the Third Herring Brook; Jacobs Pond was always a target for fish passage, not removal. The NSRWA and its partners generally prefer dam removal to restore rivers over fish ladders in most locations. Fish ladders, especially older pool and weir concrete ladders like those at Veterans’ Memorial Park on the South River or Old Oaken Bucket Dam on First Herring Brook, require significant flow management, debris removal, and ongoing maintenance and are not always efficient at passing fish. They are also intended for river herring, so while they improve conditions for some fish, the remaining dam impacts on habitat for other fish and aquatic organisms.

Jacobs Pond Dam in Norwell.

So why install a fish ladder at Jacobs Pond? First, it is a headwater pond that provides 62 acres of potential spawning habitat for alewives and the pond was always there but was simply enlarged with the installation of a dam.  We have two species of river herring in our rivers. Blueback herring spawn in the streams themselves, but alewives prefer to spawn in ponds. Accessible headwater spawning habitat tends to be rarer. Second, the dam crest is Route 123, which makes removal a much larger project. Many successful dam removals that involve roads have occurred throughout the state and New England but in many cases, those dams were preventing access to more stream and river habitat above them. Third, the site provides an excellent location for a counting platform and a way to engage and educate the public on river herring and stream restoration. And last but not least, the town of Norwell owns the dam and did not want to lose the recreational aspects of this pond for the public.  The decision to remove or keep a dam ultimately resides with the owners of the dam. Our role is to provide education to dam owners and to advocate for restoring our rivers as much as possible. Often dam removal is the right choice for many reasons but in some cases, fish ladders may be the only way to restore some ecological function in our watershed.

We are grateful for our continued relationship with NOAA, both as financial and technical partners, and look forward to implementing this project along with them.

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