WRP honors Outstanding Watershed Partners

The WRP honored 2 Outstanding Watershed Partners at our Annual Meeting on Saturday, October 27 at the Arnold Block in Bethel.

“This year’s Annual Meeting gave folks a chance to catch up with their watershed neighbors, enjoy appetizers provided by 5 Olde Tavern, and celebrate our collective work to improve the long-term health of the White River watershed,” says WRP Executive Director Mary Russ.

As part of the celebration, the WRP honored Rich Kirn and Madeleine Lyttle as the first co-recipients of the WRP’s Outstanding Watershed Partner award. The new award recognizes individuals who make outstanding contributions to the WRP and the White River watershed.

Award co-recipients Rich Kirn and Madeleine Lyttle are fisheries biologists, who retired in 2018 from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and US Fish & Wildlife Service respectively. Both Rich and Madeleine worked regionally – gathering data, developing on-the-ground projects, and advocating for improved habitat and aquatic organism passage throughout Vermont.

However the award recognizes their work in the White River watershed specifically. One example of their outstanding partnership efforts relates to a WRP flood recovery project following Tropical Storm Irene.

After the flood Rich and Madeleine provided technical assistance and funding to a Rochester-based project that replaced 6 flood-damaged, stream-crossing culverts with larger, fish-friendly, flood-resilient structures between 2012 and 2015. Extending their initial investment, Rich and Madeleine’s support enabled the project team to replace an additional 4 under-sized, stream-crossing culverts between 2016 and 2018. In sum the project has opened 20 miles of trout stream to fish passage and reduced the likelihood of significant flood damage along 10 miles of town-maintained roads in Rochester and Hancock.

“Both Rich and Madeleine personify our concept of an outstanding partner,” says Russ. “Their commitment to and investment in our mission have improved the long-term health of the White River watershed while increasing our effectiveness as an organization.”

The WRP presented Rich and Madeleine with a framed water color by Randolph resident and artist Paul Calter. The water color featured Stony Brook, an important cold-water, trout-spawning tributary to the White River in Stockbridge.

Eaton Dams removal design project

The WRP is working with partners to complete a design to remove the Upper & Lower Eaton Dams on the First Branch of the White River in Royalton.

Upper Eaton Dam

View upstream from Mill Village in 1913: Lower Dam, Factory, Covered Bridge, and Upper Dam (Royalton Historical Society)

The Upper Eaton Dam is located immediately upstream of Royalton’s Mill Road bridge.

Originally built from logs, the dam was rebuilt in 1924 using concrete. The dam was damaged in the 1927 flood, and was not rebuilt.

This dam provided power for the “factory” building that was built in 1882. Before it burned in 1968, the factory was used to make finished lumber, shoes, and small wood parts like drum hoops, hockey sticks, step stools, and clothes pins.

Lower Eaton Dam

The Lower Eaton Dam is located downstream of the Mill Road bridge and immediately upstream of the Mill Village complex.

Originally built from logs in 1776, this dam was rebuilt in the 1920s using concrete. The dam was damaged in the 1927 flood, and was rebuilt in 1943.

This dam provided power for the Mill Village businesses, including a grist mill, saw mill, carding machines and fulling mill, and blacksmith shop. Manufacturing at the Mill Village declined after the railroad was built and South Royalton village became the commerce center in town around the 1870s. The saw mill was in operation until 1970.

Why remove dams?

There are over 1,000 dams located on Vermont’s rivers and streams that serve no useful purpose: originally built to provide a source of power for manufacturing and other private and public uses, these “deadbeat” dams have been abandoned and most have fallen into disrepair.

However many of these dams still span the river channels they were built to harness. So they are blocking the movement of water, sediment, and aquatic life.

Removing these dams restores connectivity to a river system:

  • Clean water: Sediments trapped behind a dam can contain high levels of pollutants. Removing a dam allows sediments to move through the system, improving water quality.
  • Fish movement: Vermont’s native fish need to move upstream to find food, to lay their eggs, and to seek cold water during the hot summer months. Removing a dam allows fish and other aquatic life to move freely between upstream and downstream habitats.
  • Fewer flood damages: Dams elevate water levels and may cause localized flooding during rain events. Removing a dam returns water levels to normal elevations and may reduce damages associated with localized flooding.

The Upper & Lower Eaton Dams are “deadbeat” dams – they no longer serve a useful purpose, and are in disrepair.  Both dams prevent fish from migrating upstream and sediment/debris from moving downstream.  Removing the dams would improve water quality and restore fish passage to over 30 miles of the White River.

Dam removals in the White River watershed

The WRP is working with our partners to remove deadbeat dams along the White River:

  • The Randolph Dam on the Third Branch of the White River – removed in 2016
  • The Killooleet Dam remnants on the Hancock Branch of the White River – removed in 2018
  • The Upper & Lower Eaton Dam on the First Branch of the White River – removal design in 2018
  • The Hyde Dam on the Second Branch of the White River – removal design in 2018

In sum these 5 projects will restore 275 miles of the White River to free-flowing conditions!

Eaton Dam removal design partners

The Upper & Lower Eaton Dam removal design project is in progress – a 30% design is complete and a 100% design will be completed by the end of 2018.

Project partners include 2 landowners, Randolph-based engineering firm Ripple Natural Resources, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Ecosystem Restoration Program, Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund, and US Fish & Wildlife Service.

For more information, visit our Fish Passage Project page.

Killooleet Dam removed on the Hancock Branch

The WRP has completed a project to remove the Killooleet Dam from the White River’s Hancock Branch.

Killooleet Dam remnants before removal

From August to September 2018 the WRP worked with partners to remove the remnants of the Killooleet Dam and to raise streambed elevation along 500 feet of the Hancock Branch.

Identified as a high-priority in two state-funded reports, the project opens 87 miles of stream to fish passage; improves in-stream habitat and channel stability; and reconnects the Hancock Branch to the floodplain along its north bank.

Dam history

The Killooleet Dam was originally built in the early 1900s to feed a private trout fishing pond. The dam was damaged during the 1927 flood, but was rebuilt when a summer camp was created at the site of the former trout fishing club.

According to the Camp Killooleet website, “Founded in 1927 by Margaret Bartlett and Toni Taylor, Killooleet has been owned and directed by the Seeger Family for over sixty years.” John and Ellie Seeger passed the business along to their daughter Kate and her husband Dean Spencer in 1998.

The dam was damaged during a flood in 2008, then breached during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Remnants of the dam blocked a portion of the Hancock Branch and kept the stream from accessing the floodplain along its north bank.

2018 project

In 2017 the WRP received funding to develop priority projects identified in the state-funded Upper & Middle White River Corridor Plan (2015). The Plan identified 2 high-priority projects along Camp Killooleet’s property: removing the Killooleet Dam and reconnecting floodplain along the Hancock Branch.

Building a channel-spanning rock weir

The project developed after Kate Seeger expressed an interest in partnering on both projects and funded the engineering design to expedite implementation. Working closely with Kate and engineering firm Ripple Natural Resources, the WRP applied for and received VT Ecosystem Restoration Program funds to implement both in-stream projects in 2018.

After finalizing the design, applying for permits, and advertising for bids, the project partners hired Harvey’s Excavating (Rochester) to construct the in-stream project components during summer 2018. Harvey’s removed the Killooleet Dam in August, breaking apart the concrete dam remnants and removing the pieces. In September Harvey’s built 3 channel-spanning rock weirs along a 500-foot stretch of the Hancock Branch using large stone and native rock found on-site.

Project outcomes

New pool complex at former Killooleet Dam site

Removing the Killooleet Dam opens 87 miles of stream to fish passage and the free-flowing movement of sediment, ice, and debris, including 36 miles upstream and 51 miles downstream of the former dam site.

Building 3 channel-spanning rock weirs along 500 feet of the Hancock Branch reconnects the stream to an adjacent floodplain by raising the streambed elevation and improves fish habitat by creating pool habitat and channel roughness.

Project partners include Camp Killooleet, Ripple Natural Resources (Randolph), Harvey’s Excavating, VT Department of Environmental Conservation, and VT Ecosystem Restoration Program.

Working with partners to restore fish passage is one important way the WRP accomplishes its mission: bringing people together to improve the long-term health of the White River and its watershed. Since 2008 the WRP has worked with partners, funders, and 5 towns to complete 14 culvert replacement and dam removal projects, opening 212 miles of river in Hancock, Pomfret, Randolph, Rochester, and Sharon.

Last fish passage barrier removed on Rochester’s Wing Brook

Construction has started to remove the last barrier to fish passage on Wing Brook in Rochester: the stream-crossing culvert at Wing Farm Road.

The Wing Farm Road culvert is located near the mouth of Wing Brook, and is one of only three stream-crossing structures on the stream. Until recently all three structures were under-sized, making them barriers to fish passage and vulnerable to flood damages.

Why under-sized culverts matter

Stream-crossing culverts are under-sized when the width of the structure is narrower than the stream is wide – over 80% of the culverts in the White River watershed fit this description. Why does this matter?

Under-sized, stream-crossing culverts make roads vulnerable to flood damages.

During a rainstorm, water backs-up behind under-sized culverts because the stream flow is wider than the culvert inlet. Water that can’t pass through the culvert forms a whirlpool upstream, eating away at – or eroding – the river and road banks as the water rises higher and higher.

The Wing Farm Road culvert inlet is narrower than the stream is wide.

In smaller rainstorms this erosion can cause the river and road banks to slump, requiring regular maintenance to prevent a complete collapse. In larger rainstorms this erosion can wash away the road completely – this happened in hundreds of locations during Tropical Storm Irene.

Under-sized culverts also block the passage of fish. Vermont’s native fish need to migrate upstream in search of cool water during the summer months and to lay their eggs during the spring or fall.

During a rainstorm the water that passes through an under-sized culvert is moving at high speed – like water passing through a garden hose when you put your thumb over part of the opening. When it exits the culvert, the fast-moving water scours the stream downstream, eroding the bed and banks.

Over time this scouring action lowers the bed of the river below the culvert, creating a large drop – or perch – from the culvert outlet to the water below. Native fish can only jump about 1-foot, so culverts that are perched more than 1 foot become a barrier to fish trying to move upstream.

“The impact under-sized culverts have on native fish can be easy to observe,” states Executive Director Mary Russ. “During the low water conditions this summer, many people reported seeing groups of fish congregating in the pools below perched culverts or near the mouths of cold-water streams.” According to Russ, “Many of these fish were stuck – they were unable to move through under-sized, stream-crossing culverts to access cold-water habitat upstream. Some of these fish survived; some did not.”

Focusing on Wing Brook

Wing Brook is a tributary to the West Branch of the White River. From its headwaters in Hancock, Wing Brook travels over 5 miles through a primarily-forested landscape on its way to its confluence with the West Branch in Rochester. Along the way its pools and riffles are home to healthy populations of native fish – like brook trout – as well as the waterbugs they depend on. As a result Wing Brook is an important spawning stream in this portion of the Upper White River watershed.

After Tropical Storm Irene the WRP and its partners identified Wing Brook as an important fish passage restoration site for several reasons:

  1. There were only three stream-crossing structures in the 2.8-square-mile Wing Brook watershed and all three were under-sized.
  2. Two of these road/stream crossings suffered major damages during Tropical Storm Irene and required ongoing maintenance to prevent road failure.
  3. The Wing Brook confluence is located within the West Branch Restoration Project area, a 1.5-mile long, in-stream and riverside habitat restoration project completed after Tropical Storm Irene.

The WRP worked with partners to replace the Maple Hill Road culvert in 2016 (pictured) and the Marine Hill Road culvert in 2017.

Using Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department State Wildlife Grant funds, the WRP worked with Rochester-based engineer Kricket McCusker to design replacement projects for the three, town-owned, stream-crossing culverts on Wing Brook at Maple Hill Road, Marine Hill Road, and Wing Farm Road in Rochester.

Then, using a combination of US Forest Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and private foundation funding, the WRP worked with partners and local contractors to replace the Maple Hill Road and Marine Hill Road culverts in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

The Wing Farm Road culvert replacement will complete the project, reducing flood damages at road/stream crossings and restoring fish passage to the entire Wing Brook watershed.

The project also supports the local economy. Project funding benefits local businesses – from the design engineer to the construction contractors.

A culvert replacement project in action

If you’re driving through Rochester this month and have a few minutes to spare, head west on Rte 73 for 1.5 miles; turn right on Maple Hill Road; then drive 0.3 miles to Wing Farm Road and turn left. Slow down after 0.1 miles to drive over the temporary bridge across Wing Brook and you’ll see heavy machinery from Harvey’s Plumbing & Excavating (Rochester, VT) working at the site.

Over the past few weeks Harvey’s operators have installed the temporary bridge to allow traffic to bypass the construction site; removed the road material down to the new stream bed elevation; removed the old metal culvert; and knocked out the concrete cradles at the culvert inlet and outlet along with 2 old, concrete bridge abutments uncovered during the road excavation work.

Operators cut the Wing Farm Road culvert in half before removing it with an excavator.

This week the operators will install a series of rock weirs – large rocks buried in the stream bed and banks in the shape of a channel-spanning “U.” The weirs insure fish can pass upstream by holding the bed elevation at a constant slope and directing water through the center of the new channel.

In a few weeks subcontractors from Tremblay Construction (Washington, VT) will pour concrete footings and abutments for the new bridge. And sometime near the beginning of September, a crane operator will place a 60-foot-span bridge on the new abutments to complete the project.

Wing Farm Road project partners

The WRP is working with a number of partners to implement the Wing Farm Road culvert replacement project, including the town of Rochester, US Forest Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, High Meadows Fund, National Forest Foundation, State Wildlife Grant, and Vermont Clean Water Block Grant as well as local contractors Kricket McCusker, Harvey’s Plumbing & Excavating, and Tremblay Construction.

Working with partners to restore fish passage is one important way the WRP accomplishes its mission: bringing people together to improve the long-term health of the White River and its watershed. Since 2008 the WRP has worked with partners, funders, and 5 towns to complete 13 culvert replacement and dam removal projects, opening 125 miles of river in Hancock, Pomfret, Randolph, Rochester, and Sharon.

Floodplain project benefits Gaysville

The White River Partnership (WRP) has conserved 9 acres of active floodplain along 1,780 feet of the White River in Gaysville in partnership with the Vermont River Conservancy, Vermont River Management Program, High Meadows Fund, and a private landowner.

Gaysville is a small village located in the town of Stockbridge. Consisting of a cluster of homes along Route 107 and River Road, the Belcher Public Library, the Gaysville Post Office, and a steel truss bridge across the White River, you might not notice this hamlet if you drive between Bethel and Stockbridge on your way to Killington or the Green Mountain National Forest.

But Gaysville hasn’t always been easy to miss.

According to the Town of Stockbridge website, “In 1786 Elias Keyes established a grist mill and later a saw mill at “The Narrows”, later known as Gaysville, so named for its founders Daniel and Jeremiah Gay. Gaysville flourished as a manufacturing center, powered by the waters of the White River. A button shop, sawmills, grist mills, schools, churches, several general stores, a woolen mill, snowshoe shop, and many homes were at one time located at Gaysville.”

However Vermont’s most devastating flood event – the 1927 flood – changed Gaysville profoundly.

“The waters ripped through the valleys of Stockbridge, taking with them bridges, dams, sawmills, homes, factories, businesses, and the railroad. The book Floodtide of 1927 reports some thirty buildings gone, with many more rendered useless in Gaysville alone…. Due to the devastation of the 1927 flood, and a changing economy, …the hamlet of Gaysville [was] never rebuilt to [its] former glory.”

Flood waters from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 also had major impacts in the town of Stockbridge. The town’s Hazard Mitigation Plan states that Tropical Storm Irene “destroy[ed] numerous properties and wip[ed] out large swathes of roadway and other infrastructure, most notable Route 107 leading to Bethel.”

In Gaysville a privately-owned campground, which occupied 20 acres of low-lying land along the south bank of the White River, sustained heavy damages. As a result the town worked with FEMA, the state, and other partners to “buyout” the property, by purchasing it from the private landowners; removing the damaged buildings and infrastructure; and restoring the land as open space.

Located immediately downstream from the campground, the privately-owned WRP project site was also flooded during Tropical Storm Irene. But unlike the campground, the 9-acre parcel was undeveloped.

According to WRP Executive Director Mary Russ, “Irene flood waters came and went without damaging any structures, highlighting the need to keep the property undeveloped to accommodate future flooding.”

So the WRP reached out to the landowner. “When the landowner expressed an interest in protecting the undeveloped property and making the land available for public access, we raised funds to work with the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC) to implement a river corridor easement project,” says Russ.

The river corridor easement prohibits future development; allows the river to flood and move around; and protects the mature riparian forest along 1,780 feet of the river in perpetuity while allowing certain land uses – like recreational access – to continue within the 9-acre project area.

The landowner received a one-time payment as compensation for conserving the land. The Vermont Ecosystem Restoration Program and High Meadows Fund provided funding for the project.

The easement project complements the buyout project upstream; both projects prohibit development in this active floodplain, which will minimize future flood damages in Gaysville.

But the conservation projects also enhance another community benefit.

According to Russ, “Gaysville has been a recreation destination for many years: during certain water levels, paddlers come to canoe or kayak a technical section of river just upstream of the bridge; and swimmers and fishermen know that the waters are cold and clean and filled with fish.”

Now 29 acres downstream of the bridge are publicly-accessible and the former Gaysville Campground site is part of the White River Water Trail, an emerging network of 40+ designated public access sites along the river. And a group of Stockbridge community members has formed a committee to design and implement site improvements at the campground property to ensure safe, 4-season access to residents and visitors alike.

Working with partners to conserve active floodplains along the White River is one important way the WRP accomplishes its mission: bringing people together to improve the long-term health of the White River and its watershed. Since 2008 the WRP has worked with the state, VRC, Vermont Land Trust, funders, and 15 landowners to complete 10 floodplain conservation projects, conserving 157.5 acres on river-front properties in Braintree, Granville, Hancock, Randolph, Rochester, Royalton, and Stockbridge.