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Dam Removal Brings Fish Back to Paulins Kill

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Dam removal improves habitat for trout and other fish by decreasing water temperatures. (vitaliy_melnik/Adobe Stock)
Dam removal improves habitat for trout and other fish by decreasing water temperatures. (vitaliy_melnik/Adobe Stock)
TRENTON, N.J. -- After more than 100 years, migratory fish once again are making their way up the Paulins Kill, New Jersey's third largest tributary of the Delaware River.

Built just a quarter of a mile from where it joins the Delaware, the Columbia dam, the first of three dams being removed, had kept ocean dwelling fish from reaching their freshwater spawning grounds since the early 1900s.

These dam removals have been endorsed by the Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership, which helped direct federal funding to the project.

The removal of the Columbia dam was completed last year, and Beth Styler Barry, director of river restoration for The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey, says environmentalists started to see fish returning almost immediately.

"Just 17 days after dam removal, we had American shad traveling up the Paulins Kill to spawn,” she points out. “And this year we were able to document breeding sea lamprey."

Removal of the Columbia dam opened 20 miles of the Paulins Kill to migratory fish species.

Resident fish species also are benefiting from the dam removal.

According to Mike Bateman, president of a fishing club on the Paulins Kill, allowing the water to flow freely improves the natural habitat for recreational fishing.

"Every dam that we remove will help bring our average temperature down,” he points out. “Bringing that average temperature down is just critical for the trout."

Removal of the Columbia dam also opens up 32 acres of floodplain that had been underwater behind the dam.

Barry says more than 1,300 acres along the Paulins Kill have been preserved and 130 acres of floodplain have been restored with tree plantings.

"That ecosystem boost benefits people with clean water and additional access to recreation,” she states. “It benefits the number and diversity of fish in the river, and all of that benefits the Delaware."

Barry says removal of the two remaining dams on the Paulins Kill should be completed over the next two years.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.