Dam ladders let fish revisit old Patapsco haunts


An article about the fish restoration program on the Patapsc River in the Oct. 22 Howard section contained several errors. The restoration program will not result in fish reaching the upper reaches of the Patapsco for several years. Only one of the dams where the state is creating passageways for fish, Bloede Dam, was built to supply hydroelectric power. The others were built for water supply. Fourteen fish passages in the state have been completed, but only four others are under construction and will be completed by the end of the year. Planning for the project was begun as part of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

In the early part of this century several dams were constructed along the Patapsco River to generate hydroelectric


The structures, which helped to bring electricity to businesses and homes, also prevented migratory fish from swimming upstream to freshwater spawning grounds.

But next spring, according to state environment officials, the fish will be back.

Aided by fish ladders, schools of shad, river herring and perch will return to spawning waters in the the upper reaches of the Patapsco.

State Department of Natural Resources Secretary Torrey C. Brown and other environment officials toured Daniels and Bloede dams yesterday, two of the seven dams on the Patapsco River in Howard and Baltimore counties that have been barriers to fish spawning grounds for generations.

The visit to the dams in Patapsco State Park was to check on the progress of fish ladder construction and dam repair work at the sites, which should be completed by spring.

A fish ladder is a ramp-like structure with a series of steps built on the dam. The water from the dam flows down the staircase, forming small resting pools so the fish can swim upstream against the dam-created currents.

"The fish will be able to go from the bay or the ocean all the way up to the spawning grounds," said Dr. Brown.

Since 1990, 14 fish passages throughout the state have been completed, said Jay O'Dell, manager of the fish passage project. Currently 18 other passages are under construction and will be completed by the end of this year.

DNR biologists began planning the Patapsco River fish passage project in 1988 as part of a Chesapeake Bay critical areas agreement negotiated a year earlier between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Dams, culverts and other obstructions built over the years have blocked hundreds of miles of historic spawning rivers.

The $2.3 million project includes construction of fish ladders on four dams and repair work on two other dams and a culvert to allow fish passage.

Target areas in the river will be stocked with herring to increase the natural spawning population. All work will be completed by 1994, state officials say.

The effort is mainly state-financed, with $175,000 coming from -- private environmental groups, including the the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

A large portion of the project money, $1.5 million, went toward the repair of Bloede Dam, which was badly damaged during hurricane Agnes in 1972.

The project is important for both economical and ecological reasons, said Howard J. King, program chief with the fisheries division of the DNR.

The commercial fishing industry has been hurt by declining populations of anadromous fish, which live in salt water but spawn in fresh water.

In addition, shad and herring play an important role as forage fish for smallmouth bass, striped bass and bluefish, Mr. King said.

"A lot of people might think in these tough times, 'Why would you take care of fish,' " said Rob Gould, a DNR spokesman. "Fish are an indicator of the health of the bay and if you don't take care of it now, they won't be there."

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