Four years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District completed construction on a rebuilt fish ladder at the Fairmount Dam in Philadelphia. The project was designed to help migratory fish travel further up the Schuylkill River to spawn.
Today, the project has proven to be an overwhelming success.
The Philadelphia Water Department, the project's non-federal sponsor, recently posted data on the number of migratory fish species that have passed through the fish ladder. In 2011, more than 3000 American Shad traveled through the passage. Before the project was completed, the number rarely reached 100 in a year. Other species of migratory fish, including the Striped Bass and Blueback Herring, have increased in numbers as well.
"The data shows the project has been an incredible success," said Project Manager Terry Fowler, a planner with the Philadelphia District. "Certainly the fish have voted and we're happy with the result."
Fowler said the functionality of the rebuilt ladder was a vast improvement over what existed previously. The District rebuilt the entrance and exit gates, chamber pools, and a structure to help fish find the entrance to the passage.
Project Biologist Mark Eberle said the features help simulate the natural experience a migratory fish would have when traveling upstream.
The Fairmount Dam is the first impediment for fish on the Schuylkill River. The next dam (with a fishway already installed) is six miles upstream. With four recently constructed fishways and a series of completed dam removals, migratory fish are now able to travel approximately 100 miles up the Schuylkill River.
The Fairmount Dam Fish Ladder project has also provided an educational tool for the Philadelphia Water Department and the city. The site includes an outdoor classroom and video camera that streams a real-time feed of the fish passage. Students can view the stream and learn about the fish ladder at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center and on the Philadelphia Water Department web site.