DCNR cleans up Williamsport Fish passageway, shares maintenance plan to keep it open to passing fish
After a June 10 blog post by the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association with underwater video by Michael Kinney showing a complete debris blockage of a fish passageway alongside the Williamsport Dam on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, DCNR's Tiadaghton office has since cleaned the passageway twice and has shared a more aggressive maintenance plan moving forward.
In the above video by Michael Kinney taken on Tuesday, June 28, the fish passageway along the Williamsport Dam is much cleaner and fish can be seen traveling out of the upper grate upstream into the river.
"There was no fish visible inside the ladder and the water level was the same outside the grate as it was inside, which made for super-clear footage with no bubbles or forced raging water," said photographer/videographer Michael Kinney after visiting the passageway on June 28 and taking the video shown above. "You can see the entire construction of the grate. This is the first time I have ever seen it completely clear."
Luke Ulsamer, of DCNR's Tiadaghton office, admitted that maintaining the fish ladder and keeping it free of debris can be a very challenging process, especially with a limited staff who have a large number of responsibilities, especially in spring and early summer maintenance work.
"It is tough because there is a certain design issue where it attacts debris fairly quickly, especially during higher water events," he said. "It is tough, because you need a certain amount of flow into the system to attract fish, but that flow also brings with it added debris. We even had a few guys, while cleaning it, throw some sticks out like 30 feet away from the upper grate to test it, and those sticks were all drawn right up against the grate. The flow seems to overpower items that otherwise would simply go over the dam."
Ulsamer has talked to others within the agency about re-assessing the location, angle and any potential deflectors for the upper grate to limit debris, but for the meantime, he and his crew are committing to a new cleaning and maintenance schedule to keep the passageway more clear.
"Our plan moving forward is that on every Friday, the passageway will be checked and cleaned out by two of our guys," he said. "If there is a high-water event that attracts more debris than normal to the grate, then we will check it additionally as those levels recede."
That being said, he urges people to be understanding of the circumstances of the passageway and the flow through the upper grate.
"My guys could clear it out on a Monday, and literally the next day there could be new debris trapped in it," he said. "Still, we never want to get back to a place where it is as clogged as it was a few weeks ago."
In addition, Ulsamer wanted to remind people that access to the fish passageway, including the platform above the system, is off-limits to the public -- including anglers who sometimes fish from the structure.
"We are responsible to keep people out of that area -- we even talked at one point about installing a fence, but it would likely cause other issues," he said. "We just want people to be mindful of the fact that they shouldn't be down there, and we will do our best to keep things clean for the fish trying to move upstream."
The DCNR Tiadaghton office can be contacted directly at 570-753-5409. You can share comments or updates with the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper at 570-768-6300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.