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Tidal Exchange: Fall 2006

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Fall 2006 Issue

Harbor Estuary News Contents

Helping to Restore Anadromous Fish Passage
Fish Ladder Feasibility on the Rahway River
(Click Here)
Mark Jaworski and Ryan Brown

HEP Recognizes its Partners (Click Here)

EstuaryLive a Success
Receives Rave Reviews
(Click Here)

EstuaryLive 2006 Cast & Crew (Click Here)

A Victory for Habitat in the Harbor Estuary (Click Here)

HEP Awards Planning Funds for Idlewild Park Wetlands Restoration (Click Here)

HEP Awards Grants to 10 Partners for 3 Estuary Stewardship Projects (Click Here)

Important New Jersey CSO Legislation Enacted (Click Here)
Dan Zeppenfeld

The American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) (Click Here)

Helping to Restore Anadromous Fish Passage
Fish Ladder Feasibility on the Rahway River
back to top
Mark Jaworski and Ryan Brown

Dams, dikes, culver ts and other structures prevent migrating f ish in the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary, and throughout the coastal United States, from reaching their native upstream spawning grounds. Many structures located on streams and rivers are used for drinking water, electricity generation, flood control, irrigation and other benefits. The New York – New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP) provided funding for a feasibility study to determine how to best restore historical fish migration routes along the lower reaches of the Rahway River in New Jersey, while preserving beneficial uses of the river.

The ultimate purpose of this project is to allow native anadromous f ish populations to reach upstream historical spawning and rearing areas in the Rahway River that are currently inaccessible due to a dam. The installation of a fish ladder at the Rahway Water Supply Dam could be a first step in restoring the fishery in the lower section of the river and could lead to further opportunities for restoration efforts upstream.

While dams and other structures can provide valuable services to cities and communities, quite often they form insurmountable barriers that keep native fish from reaching important natal spawning, feeding, and rearing habitats. As a result, some populations of native fish species (e.g. American shad, alewife, and other river herring) have been reduced or even eliminated from these areas.

In fact, fish population studies show a deteriorating trend i n populations such as American shad and American eel in the Harbor Estuary. Because juvenile fish of these species are the prey of a variety of larger, adult fish species such as striped bass, restoring their populations is important to the entire Harbor Estuary ecosystem.

Many restoration efforts underway in the United States at this time focus on restoring fish migrations by removing or bypassing impediments. Where removal of a dam or other barrier is not feasible, fish passage structures such as fish ladders or bypass channels have been constructed to allow fish to swim over or around the dam to reach critical upstream habitat where they can spawn. Fish ladder s connect flow upstream of an impediment to downstream waters.

Fish ladders typically consist of a sloping chute that is divided by weirs which create a step-wise series of descending pools. As water flows over each weir, fish ascend the ladder by swimming or jumping into successively higher pools (see Page 6 for more information on fish ladders). Fish have been observed gathering at the Rahway Water Supply Dam during the time frame in which spawning anadromous fish would be expected to ascend the river. For the Rahway River study, a preliminary screening of design alternatives indicated that two types of fish passage alternatives may be feasible: a fish bypass design and a steeppass ladder design. The full study concluded that both proposed fish passage alternatives are feasible and would meet the project’s f ish passage goals while allowing the dam to operate in its current capacity.

HEP Funding

Funding for the Fish Passage Feasibility Study at the Rahway River Water Supply Dam was made available through a Conceptual Habitat Restoration Plan Grant offered through an open Request for Proposal (RFP) process by the Harbor & Estuary Program and the Hudson River Foundation. The proposal submitted by Weston Solutions, Inc. pledged matching inkind services toward this project and documented the support of the Rahway River Association and the cooperation of both the City of Rahway, NJ, Union County, and United Water, Inc.

Rahway River Water Supply Dam

The Rahway River, located within the Harbor Estuary region, is home to several dams that have precluded historical seasonal spawning migrations of native f ishes. The Rahway River drains a watershed of roughly 41 square miles and is 24 miles long, originating in Springfield, NJ and flowing to Linden, NJ where it drains into the Arthur Kill, a tidal estuary. The most downstream obstruction on the Rahway River is the Rahway Water Supply Dam operated by United Water, Inc. The dam is located near two HEP habitat restoration sites (AK3J and AK3K) immediately south of the Union County Rahway River Park. The primary function of the Rahway Water Supply Dam is as the name implies, for water supply for the city of Rahway.

Target Fish Species

Based on the literature, the primary suspected species targeted for upstream passage at the Rahway River Water Supply Dam are the following:

• alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus

• blueback herring, Alosa aestivalis

• gizzard shad, Dorosoma cepedianum

• white perch, Morone Americana

• American eel, Anguilla rostrata

Alewife and blueback herring are collectively referred to as river herring due to their similarity in appearance, home range, and life histories. River herring, gizzard shad, and white perch are all anadromous fish species (i.e., adults spawn in freshwater; juveniles migrate to marine environments where they grow to sexual maturity); whereas American eel are catadromous (adults spawn in the marine environment; the young migrate to freshwater habitats where they grow to sexual maturity).

River herring and gizzard shad are members of the family Clupeidae (herrings and shads). In New Jersey, adult herring migrate from the ocean to freshwater spawning areas from early spring through early summer. After hatching, young-of-the-year fish typically remain in freshwater nursery habitats for several months prior to migrating to estuarine and eventually marine environments to grow and mature. After reaching sexual maturity, the adults return to their natal streams to spawn.

No Fish Jumping?

Unlike many fish ladders found in the Pacific Northwest, both the Alaska Steeppass and Vertical Slot ladders in the Northeast are designed for fish that have no jumping capability such as alewives, blueback herring and American eels. Though this means we won’t see fish jumping upstream, we may still be able to watch the fish migrate. With some additional planning, both f ish ladders being considered for the Rahway River could be designed to include viewing stations to allow people to see the ladder and, at the right time and place, the migrating fish. Educational enhancements such as these may be sponsored by a local or regional for-profit organization.

Future Steps

In order to further evaluate both fish ladder designs and develop a conceptual design plan, a number of future steps were identif ied in the feasibility study. One potential limitation, the presence and location of buried underground utilities within the path of the proposed fish ladder, was identif ied during the evaluation. Other data gaps to be addressed include the need for detailed biological and habitat information, specifically pertaining to populations and distribution of anadromous and catadromous fish species that may potentially utilize the f ish ladder. In addition, more data is needed to conf irm that suff icient spawning habitat upstream of the dam exists, and whether habitat enhancements are necessary or feasible.

Similar restoration efforts, including anadromous fish passage restoration, are cur rently being conducted elsewhere within the Rahway River watershed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the City of Rahway and other stakeholders such as the Rahway River Association. One particular restoration project is currently being conducted on the Robinson Branch of the Rahway River. As part of a $1.1 million dollar restoration and improvement project, a fish ladder has been installed at the Milton Lake Dam to aid in the migration of white perch and gizzard shad to their historical spawning grounds.

Mark Jaworski is a Client Service Manager with Weston Solutions, Inc. Mark has been a long time advocate of ecological restoration projects within the Harbor and has been an active member of the HEP Habitat Work Group since 1999.

Ryan Brown, a Senior Scientist with Weston Solutions, Inc., has been the lead fisheries biologist on numerous fisheries and aquatic habitat investigations and was responsible for conducting the fish passage feasibility evaluation.

Sidebar: What Prevents Fish From Going Upstream?

A number of structural barriers and impediments can prevent fish from entering streams or tributaries where they spawn, or in the case of the American eel, where they mature. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the structures that provide benefits to our communities but can keep fish from reproducing in their native waters. Dams and spillways are used to contain water for drinking water reservoirs, for generating electricity, or to build lakes for parks or recreation. Most dams, unless modified, are impassable by fish. Tide gates keep freshwater from mixing with salt water, which often creates freshwater lakes above the tide gates and salt water marshes below. The salt water marshes can contain rare marsh wildlife and habitats. Like dams, tide gates are often impassable. Concrete channeling of stream beds is used to control flooding or change the course of the stream to allow for density in urban or suburban areas. Concrete channels increase the volume and velocity of streams preventing fish from finding resting spots on their upstream journey. Culverts typically consist of large pipes built under roads at stream crossings to move stream flow under the roadway and prevent flooding and washouts of roads. Culverts can prevent fish from passing in dry weather or low tide, and concentrate the flow and increase stream velocity during wet weather. Fish restoration efforts may not be feasible nor desirable for some impediments. Poor water quality or stream conditions may not allow for successful spawning even when impediments are overcome. In some areas, natural barriers such as waterfalls or rapids prevent fish passage and indicate that fish migration may not have occurred historically.

Sidebar: Fish Ladders The Vertical Slot ladder, or step pool, weir design ladder is constructed on site and consists of baffles spaced evenly along the length of the ladder, often with vertical slots within the baffles. The baffles create pools of water while the slots allow for fish to pass up through the baffles. The pools and eddies that are created provide more slowly flowing water for fish to rest in as they make their way up the ladder. An important feature of the Vertical Slot ladder is that the baffles can be removed and replaced, allowing for more control of the flow to aid fish passage when water volumes are higher or lower than normal. The removable baffles also allow the fish ladder to be closed when fish are not migrating, which provides for better water control at the dam site. The Alaska Steeppass fish ladder is a pre-fabricated aluminum chute that can be designed and built to match the features of a particular site. This type of ladder is installed on-site with limited modif ication of the ladder required. The steeppass design consists of vanes along the sides and bottom that point up and at angles towards the flow of water. The vanes create turbulence and reduce the water velocity while keeping enough water flowing down the ladder for fish to swim through. If the vanes were not in place, the steady unaltered flow of water would not provide enough volume for the migrating fish to pass up the ladder. The Alaska Steeppass ladder is particularly effective for small dams or remote locations as the ladder can be easily installed on site.

HEP Recognizes its Partners back to top

The HEP office would like to thank the Hudson River Foundation (HRF) for hosting several work group meetings including the Contaminant Assessment and Reduction Program (CARP) meeting, the Comprehensive Restoration Plan (CRP) meeting, and the Regional Sediment Management Work Group (RSMWG) meeting.

HEP would like to recognize the partnership between HEP and HRF for HRF’s role in hosting the monthly NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Seminar Series. Visit www.hudsonriver.org for the schedule. Thanks to the Interstate Environmental Commission for hosting the Pathogens Work Group meeting.

Thanks to the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance for hosting the Citizens Advisory Committee meeting.

EstuaryLive a Success
Receives Rave Reviews
back to top

Students in classrooms across the country visited the dynamic urban estuary of the NY-NJ metropolitan region live via the Internet when HEP hosted EstuaryLive on Friday, September 29. This web-based broadcast from Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York was sponsored by HEP and involved broad participation from many partners including students, teachers, scientists, national park rangers and educators , agency personnel, non-profit organizations and local community groups.

With thunderstorms and rain clearing in the nick of time, the broadcast came off without a hitch under beautiful skies along the southern shore of Big Egg Marsh in Jamaica Bay. Months of planning and preparation by HEP’s Laura Bartovics and Cathy Yuhas paid off as compliments, congratulations, and kudos flowed into the office during the weeks following the broadcast.

More than 250 schools from 35 states, representing at least 15,000 students, registered to participate in the live virtual tour of Jamaica Bay. During the hour-long EstuaryLive broadcast, participating students submitted more than 300 email questions to our on-site field trip leaders. Viewers spanned grade levels 3 through 12, showing that the program appealed to a broad audience.

The NY- NJ Harbor Es tuary was one of four sites competitively selected to host EstuaryLive. The national program, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was the start of activities held for National Estuaries Day on Saturday, September 30. HEP acknowledges on the following page the time and commitment of the many people and institutions that made EstuaryLive such a success. Thanks to everyone for making EstuaryLive such a rewarding and valuable experience.

Did you miss EstuaryLive? Watch the archived webcasts anytime on www.estuaries.gov

Salt Marsh Island Restoration Learn about the experimental restoration of Big Egg Marsh by viewing an interactive animation on www.nature.nps.gov/jbi/restoration.htm.

EstuaryLive 2006 Cast & Crew back to top

Teachers & Students

Jennifer Porcheddu
and sixteen 10th & 11th grade students
Beach Channel High School
Rockaway Park NY
John Ponticorvo
and fourteen 3rd year students
Explore 2000
Hudson County Schools of Technology
Jersey City NJ


Melissa Alvarez, US ACE
Laura Bartovics, NY Sea Grant
Lisa Eckert, Gateway NRA
George Frame, Gateway NRA
Brian Harris, NJMSC
Alanah Heffez, SCA Intern
Nordica Holochuck, NY Sea Grant
Geri Kobryn - Blatter, Gateway NRA
Kathy Krause, Gateway NRA
John Lancos, Gateway NRA
John McLaughlin, NYC DEP
Dan Meharg, Gateway NRA
Walter Mugdan, US EPA
Dan Mundy, Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers
Fred Mushacke, NYS DEC
Bob Nyman, US EPA
Dorothy Peteet, Lamont-Doherty
Don Riepe, American Littoral Society
Mark Ringenary, Gateway NRA
Liz Strom, Gateway NRA
Dave Taft, Gateway NRA
Jennifer Wolff, Gateway NRA
Cathy Yuhas, NJ Sea Grant


Joel Banslaben, CMRC
Barbara Branca, NY Sea Grant
Mike Byer, Gateway NRA
Micky Cohen, American Littoral Society
Kim Estes-Fradis, NYC DEP
Chris Smith, Council on Env. NYC
Mark Strang, SCA Intern
Kim Tripp, Jamaica Bay Institute
Carol Williams, Gateway NRA
Cortney Worrall, NEIWPCC


Bob Gubar, RMG Satellite
Kathy Gubar, RMG Satellite
Bill Lovin, Marine Grafics
Brad Kaplan, Camera
Dale Dexter, Camera
Don Mercz, Audio
Joseph Di Mattia, Stay Tuned
Martin Lucas, Stay Tuned
Cheong-Hyun Lee, Stay Tuned

National Coordination

Nancy Laurson, US EPA
Atziri Ibanez, NOAA
Becky Weidman, NERRA

Thanks Also to:

Claire Antonucci, NJMSC
Paul Focazio, NYSea Grant
Kezi Barry, Stay Tuned
Kim Kosko, NJMSC
Jennifer May, US EPA
Jeanette Parker, Gateway NRA
Funded by EPA and NOAA

A Victory for Habitat in the Harbor Estuary
back to top
Wetlands in Staten Island Acquired for Protection
HEP’s Priority Acquisition Site AK13 - Neck Creek

HEP is pleased to report that another HEP acquisition site has been acquired and will thereby be protected for its habitat and value to the health of the Harbor Estuary. In July 2006, EPA announced that an ecologically critical 16-acre tract of tidal wetlands in northwest Staten Island (Neck Creek) will be preserved as the result of a 2002 Consent Decree with the former Mobil Oil Corporation negotiated by the EPA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

The tract, located on the western shore of Staten Island at the intersection of the Arthur Kill and Neck Creek near Meredith Avenue, is across the West Shore Expressway from Meredith Woods Park. The City of New York will take over responsibility for its protection. Ultimately, the land will be accessible to the public. This HEP Priority Habitat Acquisition Site was featured in the Summer 2004 issue of The Tidal Exchange.

HEP Awards Planning Funds for Idlewild Park Wetlands Restoration back to top

The Harbor & Estuary Program, working with New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, has awarded a $30,000 conceptual restoration grant to the Eastern Queens Alliance, Inc (EQA) for work at Idlewild Park in Queens. EQA will use the funds to complete design drawings and develop and administer construction documents for a wetland restoration within Idlewild Park on Jamaica Bay. Approximately $340,000 of environmental benef it funds have been set aside for this project by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) for restoration, protection, and increased public access to this site. However, the NYSDEC-funded work can not proceed until the tasks that HEP will be funding are complete.

HEP Awards Grants to 10 Partners for 3 Estuary Stewardship Projects
back to top

As part of a new initiative to support regional partnerships and promote stewardship within the estuary, HEP established a Stewardship Grant Program in 2006. The first round of grants awarded will support the work of ten partner organizations with a total of $94,700 in funding for three regional projects. For more information, visit www. harborestuary.org/getinvolved.htm.

New York/New Jersey Harbor Education Program
Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment
New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium
Funding: $20,000

Friends of the Estuary
Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions
Council on the Environment of New York City
Future City Inc.
New York Academy of Sciences
New York City Soil and Water
Conservation District
Funding: $45,000

Increasing Harbor Stewardship through Oyster Restoration in New York City
The River Project
NY/NJ Baykeeper
New York Harbor School
Funding: $29,770

Important New Jersey CSO Legislation Enacted back to top
Dan Zeppenfeld

New Jersey recently enacted legislation, Assembly Bill No. 4563, signed into law as PL 2005, c. 301, that appropriates $30,000,000 to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to provide grants to local government units for wastewater treatment system projects.

The New Jersey Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Control Program will benefit significantly from this action. The legislation provides a total of $3,000,000 for 24 entities to fund up to 20 percent of the cost for the development and evaluation of pathogen control alternatives and cost performance analyses for combined sewer systems as required pursuant to the New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permits issued by the Department. The Legislation also provides $24,180,000 for the purpose of f inancing up to 20% of the project construction costs for wastewater treatment system projects. The moneys will be used for a wide variety of wet weather water quality improvement projects including separate sanitary and storm water systems and combined sewer systems and non-point source pollution abatement.

Dan Zeppenfeld is with the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection.

IThe American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) back to top

One of the most fascinating species that resides and travels in and out of the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary is the American eel. American eel larvae start their lives in the Sargasso Sea, the slow moving, more saline ocean area near Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean. Through several life stages the eels eventually return to the estuaries and freshwaters found from Greenland to the north coast of South America. The unique nature of this species and general decline in abundance since the 1970s makes the American eel a key species of the harbor estuary. American eel were once extremely abundant in the lower Hudson River and commercially important in Raritan Bay area and elsewhere in the estuary. They are important to many ethnic cuisines and are a popular live bait for striped bass. The commercial eel fishery was closed in the mid 1970s within the Hudson River and adjacent industrialized tributaries because the eels were excessively contaminated by PCBs and other toxic organic substances. Consumption advisories have been issued by both NJ and NY for recreational fisheries.

Unlike anadromous species which spawn in freshwater and migrate to salt water, the American eel is a catadromous fish species, migrating as adults from freshwater to spawn in salt water, and is the only catadromous species of the harbor estuary. After spawning the American eel resides and matures in the Hudson River, Rahway River, and other tidally influenced water bodies of the harbor estuary, and beyond. After hatching, American eel begin their migration as larvae, eventually developing into small transparent eels called “glass eels” by the time they reach the continental shelf. Glass eels begin to darken and can then be found in a wide range of coastal-estuarine habitats often in submerged aquatic vegetation. Young females migrate into freshwaters where they stay and feed for 7-30 years as yellow eels. When they mature they migrate downstream to the ocean to become “silver” eels and join the males going to their spawning grounds. The smaller males tend to stay in more saline water most of their life and can take up to 12 years to mature. During harsh winters the eels will move to deeper waters where they may burrow in the mud. These eels are reported to be very sedentary and keep within a home range. If this includes toxic organic chemical contaminated sediments, this can enhance their uptake of contaminants. Many scientists believe that tidal creek mouths and upland freshwater streams are important habitat for this species.

This article was adapted from a key species profile written for HEP by Frank Steimle, National Marine Fisheries Service.


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