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    Lopatcong Creek Dam Removal

    This article appeared in the Star Ledger on Sunday, and I think it's a really good story to report on. If this plays out as hoped for over the next several years, the lower Lopat could come up a few notches as a trout stream.



    AUN: Dam removal to help out trout
    Sunday, April 02, 2006
    BY FRED J. AUN
    For the Star-Ledger

    If fish had heroes, the slippery specimens being stunned tomorrow, when biologists and volunteers stick electrodes into Lopatcong Creek, would certainly deserve honorary statues.

    Temporarily incapacitated, the finned inhabitants of the stream near Pursel's Mill in Phillipsburg will be sacrificing their free-will so that others can cruise unfettered.

    Their passing paralysis is the first step in a 6-week-long dam removal project that will allow their brethren to migrate up and down the creek for the first time in about 150 years.

    Lopatcong Creek hasn't been able to run freely into the Delaware River since the Morris Canal was built in the mid-1800s. The first lock of the canal, Lock 10 West, was erected along the creek at the site.

    Even after the canal ceased operations in 1924, the little stream was disallowed its freedom to flow. In 1927, the Pursel family built a dam there, diverting water to run a mill on their property. They stopped using the mill in 1945 but -- as is the case with many American streams -- the dam remains.

    Aside from creating a potential flooding hazard to downstream residents, the existence of Pursel's Mill Dam means anadromous fish (those that migrate upstream to spawn) can only go about three-quarters of a mile up Lopatcong Creek. It also hampers water quality for the stream's existing brown trout.

    The dam removal, a joint effort between property owner Harry Pursel, several government agencies and some conservation groups, will improve the trout habitat and allow spawning fish from the Delaware to travel about eight miles up the creek, said Geoffrey Goll of project designer Princeton Hydro of Ringoes.

    "This should really help the local trout populations," he said. "The other aspect of this is that we anticipate getting anadromous fish in there, alewife, blueback herring and hickory shad. Those are all food for striped bass in the main stem of the Delaware, so this might enhance the quality of fishing in the river."

    Before crews can begin dismantling the dam, Fish and Wildlife biologists and Trout Unlimited volunteers will "electro-fish" about 400 feet of the creek upstream of the dam. The fish, stunned by harmless electric jolts, will be relocated, said Rick Axt, vice-chairman of Trout Unlimited's New Jersey State Council. He hopes the project will be followed by many more of a similar nature.

    "This is the first time in New Jersey that a dam is being breached to restore a stream to its prior condition," said Axt. "There have been other dam breaches, but they were done for different reasons ... This is being done, basically, for environmental reasons."

    About $215,000 of the project's $360,000 cost is being paid by Pursel through a state loan. Discussions are underway in which Warren County would buy the property and convert it into a historically significant public park.

    The New Jersey Resource Conservation Development Council is helping with streambank stabilization and restoration at the site. The non-profit group's watershed specialist, Grace Messinger, said trees and shrubs will be planted along the creek to help prevent erosion and provide cooling shade.

    "Right now, with the dam there, there's little or no vegetation," she said. "There's a big influx of nonpoint-source pollution (such as fertilizers and sediment). Plus, the water heats up when it's held behind the dam. All those are negatives to the fish population."

    A similar dam on the Musconetcong River in Mount Olive, near Hackettstown, is likely to be the next in the state to be removed, said Axt and Goll. Known as the Gruendyke Mill dam, it might be breached sometime this summer.

    The Musconetcong Watershed Authority (MWA), which is leading the removal effort, said the Gruendyke Mill dam "is one of many obsolete dams blocking the river" and called its imminent destruction "the first step in a long-term effort to restore the river's natural flow, improve water quality and enhance fish migration."



    Fred J. Aun covers the outdoors for The Star-Ledger. He may be reached at outdoors@starledger.com


  2. #2
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    We electroshocked today in the section between the breach in the canal berm for the diversion channel and the dam. This section doesn't look like much since it basically goes along the bottom of the abandoned canal.

    We got 37 wild browns and 2 stocked brookies. Most of the browns were 10" to 12"(biggest fish was 12"). Got a few dace, a darter, and only one 2" sucker. It was great to see an urban stream where most of the biomass is in wild trout. The fish were moved downstream and the diversion channel was cut allowing the dam to dry up and be ready for removal.

    The stream above the dam will be "terraced" so the creek doesn't simply cut through all the sediment behind the dam.

    Later in the year we will need help for planting along the stream banks.


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