A project 15 years in the making is now complete and will connect migratory fish to miles and miles of critical habitat.
The idea for the project started when one North Branford resident was eating breakfast and noticed something strange happening in his own backyard.
"There were these fish leaping up out of the water, of the waterfall here, and bashing their heads against the side of the dam,” Lindsay Suter said. “And I just, I felt terrible."
After doing research and learning about the native fish trying to swim upstream, Suter knew a change needed to be made. An architect himself, Suter worked alongside the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Save the Sound, and the Regional Water Authority to create a fish ladder, also known as a fishway, to allow fish to swim over the Pages Millpond Dam.
"It makes turbulence, the steep pass units, and they make little steps that the fish can handle and move up," said Suter.
It's something they haven’t been able to do since the dam was first constructed to power a mill centuries ago.
This technology was first used at a much smaller scale downstream on the Farm River in 2014 when the Regional Water Authority built a fish ladder that restored more than 5 miles of river habitat.
"You can have more habitat, more fish, more wildlife coming in being attracted by those fish,” explains John Hudak, and Environmental Planning Manager for the Regional Water Authority. “So it's great for the whole ecosystem in general."
The fish ladders specifically benefit alewife, also known as river herring. A type of fish found in the river that has seen a decline in population because their spawning habitat had been blocked off.
"They're critical to all of the species in The Sound that will feed on them,” said Alex Krofta, Ecological Restoration Projects Manager for Save the Sound. “All of the birds like osprey and bald eagles so they're just really critical to the entire ecosystem."
Now the fish are swimming freely, the ecosystem is being restored, and there’s a little extra light amid troubling times right in Suter's backyard.
"I've been staring out my window for the last 3 months and seeing the construction underway is such a wonderful, concrete, real thing in a time of inaction that it's been a lifesaver for me and the family," Suter said.
The fishway was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as well as the CT DEEP Fisheries Division.