This dam was created for ice skating. Its destruction brings environmental benefits

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In the 1930s, industrialist and philanthropist Charles Dana of Wilton decided his children needed a skating pond.

In 1940 he dammed the Norwalk River to make one.

Today, some 80 years after Dana peremptorily decided that the pleasures of winter come before the river’s worth, her dam is collapsing.

“It’s going well,” said Alex Krofta, project manager for Save the Sound, the environmental group that lobbied for the dam’s removal.

When long-planned work is completed next year, the Norwalk River will flow unimpeded for more than 20 miles, from Long Island Sound to the former Georgetown Industrial Dam.


And so he will be reborn.

Louise Washer said the free river will allow migrating fish, eels and lamprey to swim upstream of the strait.

“There will be aquatic plants that will need running water,” she said. “There will be insects that will feed on these plants.

Krofta said these migrating fish – alewife, blueback herring – are the great nature reserve for baitfish, both in the rivers and in the strait.

“They feed everyone,” he said

There will also be a natural flow of silt and nutrients downstream, said Jeff Yates, conservation chair for the Mianus chapter of Trout Unlimited.

“It’s a natural way to fertilize the banks of streams,” Yates said.

And Charlie Taney, executive director of the Norwalk River Valley Trail – which will eventually run 30 miles from Norwalk to Danbury – said a better, healthier river would attract more people to the trail.

The trail now crosses Merwin Meadows in Wilton, near the now silted pond of Dana Dam.

If there are river herring and alewife swimming in a restored river, there will be great blue heron and osprey for them. People will be happy to see them.

“I think it’s good for the environment and good for the track,” said Taney.

This is the third dam that has been dismantled in the Norwalk River. The Flock Process Dam in Norwalk was removed in 2018. The Cannondale Dam in Wilton, while not removed, has a six-foot-wide breach that allows fish to swim in front.

The project is part of a general trend towards the removal of old dams on rivers and streams in the State. Most of them are vestiges of the state’s industrial past in the 19th century, when dams, mills and factories went hand in hand.

Alicea Charamut, executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, said there are more than 4,000 such dams in Connecticut.

“They cause problems for migrating fish, as well as for native fish populations,” she said. Trout, which seek cool water in the summer, may not necessarily find this water if there is a large, warm, shallow pond blocking the flow of the river.

Chuck Lee, deputy director of the dam safety department of the water planning and management division of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said today good many of these dams no longer fulfill their function.

“They block the fish and create a flood risk,” he said.

This is because dams, like any structure, need maintenance. People often buy land with a small dam, not knowing the cost of repair or removal.

If a storm breaks this dam, it can release a damaging flush downstream. The remnants of four tropical storms that plagued the state this summer have brought this problem home. Climate change, as expected, is bringing bigger, wetter and more unstable storms to the state.

Krofta of Save the Sound said this year’s work at the Dana Dam will consist of replacing the aged and unusable drainage pipe at the base of the dam.

Once this wire is made, the pond behind it can be emptied carefully. Then, Krofta said, Save the Sound will work to restore the natural riverbed and restore the ecological health of the pond basin.

“It will look muddy at first, but things will push back,” he said.

The Dana Dam and its concrete base along the river will be completely removed. At that time, in 2022, the Norwalk River will flow where it was blocked.

The word people use repeatedly to describe this work is connectivity – an attempt to connect natural resources, to rebalance them.

Yates, of Trout Unlimited, said there was now active work to remove small dams on streams like Comstock Creek in Wilton, to connect them as well. Removing the Dana Dam can boost this work, he said.

“I hope this will be another important step,” he said. “Another, then another.”

Contact Robert Miller at [email protected]


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