Study will decide if dam stays or goes

By MELANIE THIBEAULT Valley Breeze Staff Writer

PAWTUCKET – Keith Gonsalves says he’s hoping that a dam located off Armistice Boulevard in Pawtucket can be removed to help restore the health and natural order of the Ten Mile River.

“It’s not healthy,” Gonsalves, president of the Ten Mile River Watershed Council, told The Breeze about the state-owned dam on Armistice Boulevard at the Pawtucket Country Club. His proposal, he said, is to remove the dam and replace the pond with a serpentine river.

Though talks about removing the dam have been ongoing for a couple of years, the Watershed Council has now received a grant from the Coastal Resources Management Council to conduct a preliminary feasibility study of the dam.

The study should determine whether it’s best to remove the dam, modify it, or leave it as is, Gonsalves said. One of his questions is whether removing the dam will harm wildlife, he said, adding that he also doesn’t want to eliminate recreational opportunities such as fishing or kayaking.

“Some things just can’t be done,” he said. “We’ll go with the flow and see what we can achieve.”

The pond may look pretty, but Gonsalves said it’s unhealthy because it’s so shallow it causes the water to warm up quickly and triggers an algae cycle. The pond turns green, then as algae dies it sinks to the bottom where it decomposes, robbing the water of oxygen and killing bottom-dwelling species. The pond is only 3-feet deep, said Gonsalves, who kayaks it and has to pick and choose where to go because it’s so shallow.

The Watershed Council is also focused on restoring river herring to the Ten Mile River, and while there are currently three fish passages located along the river, this dam is preventing further fish migration up river, he said. By removing the dam and creating a passage, fish can go further up the river and spawn there, Gonsalves explained.

River herring are important because they’re low on the food chain, meaning many other species eat them, Gonsalves said. Herring have been in decline for more than 20 years, he added, and people fishing aren’t allowed to use them for bait anymore.

Fuss & O’Neill, a civil and environmental engineering consulting firm based in Providence, will be conducting the study, which will include assessing the dam for fish passage alternatives, though Gonsalves said he wasn’t sure of the timeline yet.

“It’s not an easy, fast process,” he said.

The Watershed Council is partnering with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and nonprofit Save the Bay on this project.

“We’re just looking at what can be done,” Phil Edwards, chief of the RIDEM’s division of fish and wildlife, told The Breeze, adding that a fish passage alternative at the dam would provide river connectivity from the upper Ten Mile River Watershed and Narragansett Bay for both migratory and resident fish. Right now there’s no way for the fish to go back and forth, he said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”

Edwards said DEM and the Watershed Council have worked together for many years and have a great partnership. “We appreciate their support and involvement in the restoration of this river,” he said.

Along the Ten Mile River there are three fish ladders – at Omega Pond, Hunt’s Mill, and the Turner Reservoir, Edwards said, adding that there are two species of river herring: bluebacks and alewife.

There is the potential to open up an additional habitat where the Pawtucket Country Club dam is located, he noted. “All of these restorations are to enhance the river herring (population),” Edwards said. “These fish are valuable for freshwater and marine ecosystems.”

The river serves as an important wildlife corridor and is a jewel for the area, Gonsalves said.

At this stage Gonsalves said he expects to take a lot of flak from people who don’t understand the ecology of the waterway but sees this as a chance for education. “It’s the right thing to do for the health of the river,” he said.

The Pawtucket Country Club uses water from the pond for irrigation, he said, noting that he doesn’t want to put them out in any way with this project. He said in initial conversations with the club he’s received some pushback on the project.

Representatives from the Pawtucket Country Club did not respond to The Breeze’s requests for comment.

When asked what purpose the dam serves, Gonsalves said he doesn’t think it has any. “I see no functional need for that,” he said.

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