Fish Passage Program Solves Dam Problems

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New bridge over Little Brown's Creek in California shows the dramatic improvements to fish passage possible with the help of the National Fish Passage program.Credit: Christine Jordan, Five Counties Salmonid Conservation ProgramThis year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Passage Program provided nearly $8.3 million to remove or bypass more than 168 barriers to fish passage. Along with nearly $18 million in partnership funds, the Fish Passage Program will help reopen 1,716 miles of streams and rivers and 9,471 acres to improve habitats for recreational fish and imperiled aquatic species.

The widespread issue of fish passage is the result of the construction of millions of culverts, dikes, water diversions, dams and other artificial barriers that impound and redirect water for irrigation, flood control, electricity, drinking water, and transportation — all changing natural features of rivers and streams. As the Service’s understanding of the response of fisheries to these barriers has grown, efforts have begun to reverse the negative impacts they’ve had on our fish and environment. The Fish Passage Program uses a voluntary, non-regulatory approach to work with municipal, state, tribal and federal agencies, as well as non-governmental agencies to reopen and improve aquatic habitats in the nation’s streams and rivers. The program provides funding and technical expertise to partners to remove or bypass dams and other obstructions and replace or improve culverts under roads or railroad tracks — all to allow fish to swim through. The goal of the program is to restore native fish and other aquatic species to self-sustaining levels by reconnecting habitat that has been fragmented by barriers.

One exemplary project supported by the Program is the removal of the Balmoral Dam on Mill Creek, a major tributary to the Wisconsin River, Wisconsin. The removal of the dam will restore stream flows and allow access to more than 92 miles of habitat for brook trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, western sand darter and other native fish and mussel species.  The removal will also improve the quality of the cold-water trout fishery in the upstream reach, the warm-water fishery in the lower section, as well as improve water quality throughout the stream.

Other funded projects include:

  • John Day River Basin, Oregon – $66,231 in Service funding and $440,000 in partner funds to restore passage at six diversions, allowing access to an additional 40.8 miles of stream habitat for the listed bull trout and Mid-Columbia River steelhead salmon, as well as spring Chinook salmon, redband trout and other native fish species. 
  • Homestead Woolen Mill Dam, Ashuelot River, Swanzey, New Hampshire – $83,623 in Service funding to remove the dam and restore access to five miles of stream habitat for Atlantic salmon, American shad and blueback herring.
  • Loosahatchee Bar, Tennessee – $100,000 in Service funding and $65,000 in partner funding to remove one dam and restore access to four miles of stream habitat for pallid and shovelnose sturgeon and other fish species.
  • Two Moose Creek, Alaska – $42,857 in Service funding to restore access to nine miles of stream habitat for steelhead, Coho and sockeye salmon.
  • Oak Run Creek, Shasta County, California – $33,450 in Service funding and $20,000 in partner funds to remove to barriers and restore access to six miles of stream habitat for resident wild trout and other fish species.

Since its inception in 1999, the National Fish Passage Program has removed or bypassed 655, restoring access to almost 10,612 miles of river and 51,361 acres of wetlands. The Program has also been able to leverage an average of three dollars for every project dollar spent through its partners.

Click here for a complete list of funded 2008 projects:

For more information about the Fish Passage Program, visit our home page at:

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit