Sunday September 9, 2012

LENOX

Thunder Brook originates in the Mount Greylock State Reservation in Cheshire, flows southeast down a steep ravine, crosses under Lanesborough Mountain Road, turns east and used to flow into a reservoir. The brook joins Kitchen Brook a short distance downstream from where the reservoir dam was and flows into the South Branch of the Hoosic River in Cheshire.

It is designated a cold water stream and supports a wild population of eastern brook trout and possibly long-nose suckers and the slimy sculpins (all of which have been on the decline in recent years). For example, eastern brook trout currently occupy less than half of their original range in Massachusetts and according to MassWildlife, the long nose sucker is considered a ‘Species of Concern.'

The Thunder Brook dam, off of West Mountain Road in Cheshire, once provided municipal water supply to the town of Cheshire from the 1920s to the 1970s, but is no longer needed. As sediment continued to accumulate behind the dam, the water in the shallow impoundment was heated to a greater extent than in the past. This solar heating of the water reduced habitat suitability for trout downstream by encouraging algae growth and reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen. That and an undersized culvert caused segmentation of habitat, sedimentation and erosion issues.

You notice that I write in past tense because a partnership was formed to do something about the dam and culvert. Recently they took down the dam, improved downstream water quality and restored connectivity to 2.4 miles of riverine and riparian habitat. Technical and funding support came from the following members of this partnership: Hoosic River Watershed Association, Hoosuck Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, Massachusetts Environmental Trust, Town of Cheshire and the Division of Ecological Restoration, and the Mass. Dept. of Fish and Game.

A $10,000 grant was received from Trout Unlimited to help fund the final design for the reservoir dam removal and to purchase equipment to monitor water quality both before and after dam removal, and a $51,000 grant was received from the Massachusetts Environ mental Trust to support topographic surveying and mapping, sediment sampling and analysis and the preliminary design for the project. About $45,000 of in kind services was committed by the town of Cheshire, and they have done most of the physical work under supervision of the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration.

The dam was obvious, but many people didn't realize that there were actually two barriers. The second one was a culvert downstream of the dam, which also prevented fish from upstream movement during many months of the year. According to DER, the culvert was undersized and perched on the downstream side hindering fish migration, and sometimes causing blockage and bank scouring, thus requiring frequent repairs. Migrating fish do not normally cross through culverts just to get to the other side, but they need to. For the good of the species it is important that they interbreed with other fish upstream and downstream. Otherwise they would be hanging out with the members of the same old school.

The second part of the project (culvert) will start in October and should be completed before winter. The undersized culvert will be replaced using the most recent state stream-crossing guidelines, which enhance the ability of fish and other critters to cross roads. By removing these barriers, the project partners have given a substantial boost to one of the Berkshire's most beautiful streams and helped ensure the ecological health of this part of the Hoosic River's headwaters.

Following completion of this project, the DER will work on six new projects statewide. One of the projects will be working with the Pioneer Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited to restore multiple sites on Kinne Brook in Chester through dam removal and culvert replacement.

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Don't forget, Mass. boating regulations require that all persons aboard canoes and kayaks between September 15 and May 15 wear a Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, or III PFD at all times while a boat is underway. This law applies to waterfowl hunters using canoes or kayaks. In addition, the Mass. Environmental Police recommends wearing a PFD as standard practice year-round, and reminds boaters that children under 12 are required to wear PFDs in boats of all types throughout the year. While most lifejackets will not prevent hypothermia, they do give the victim one less thing to worry about: staying afloat.

To reach Gene Chague:
berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com,
(413) 637-1818.