Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t

Let me wrap up something I’m really happy to be a part of: a series of stories looking at the Adirondacks’ rivers, its dams and efforts to return salmon to the rivers despite the dams.

Over the last month, we published a story from the series every week or so, but I want to make sure you’ve had a chance to see them all in one place:

Barriers to renewal
For the last half century, state and federal officials have tried to lure salmon back into the Saranac. But they keep running into the same problem that drove the salmon away in the 1800s: dams.

Plattsburgh dam stands in the way of salmon progress
The state became part owner of a dam after New York voters approved Gov. George Pataki’s 1996 bond to pay for environmental projects. One of the projects they were sold was a fish ladder on the Imperial Dam in Plattsburgh. But the state hasn’t had luck getting things done there. It spent $1 million on consultant fees trying to figure out how to make the project happen, then went back to the drawing board to come up with a $6 million plan it rolled out this summer.

A surprise spot for prime fishing
Still, who would think that for some of the best salmon fishing around Lake Champlain, anglers head straight into the heart of the City of Plattsburgh? Tim Rowland visits the spot.

Forgotten waters
And upstream, the paddling is good, too: Chris Morris, a Saranac Lake native who now serves as communications director with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, met my colleague Mike Lynch at Union Falls dam and the pond formed there. Morris said it’s not a water he has paddled much. Many other paddlers often head elsewhere, too. “Anecdotally, it probably is one of the least popular paddling spots because it’s off the beaten path,” he said. “Here you have a lot more locals that like to fish.”

Netting salmon to save them
It’s hard not to think of it from the salmon’s perspective. They come into the Boquet River looking for a quiet place to breed and nest. As they round a bend to swim through the town of Willsboro and suddenly get stuck in a net. The next morning, they’re pulled from the water, anesthetized and suddenly two new things are sticking out of their body. If they’re not trucked several miles up the road to the calm waters ideal for them to nest, then they’re released right back in Willsboro near a sign that, if they could walk up the bank and read English, would explain what just happened to them.

Rewilding a run
The story repeats itself around the country: Salmon vs. dams, dams vs. salmon. Dams usually win. But what happened in Willsboro is still remarkable, a sign of how quickly the balance can change.

The Union Falls dam on the Saranac River. Photo by Benjamin Chambers.

Editor’s note: The entire package with videos and photo galleries can be found here. This first appeared in Ry’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.


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Ry is a reporter who covered water-quality issues for the Explorer.

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