MERIDEN — Workers removed an obsolete 30-inch water main running across the upper Quinnipiac River Friday, the final phase in a barrier removal project along the river.
The pipe removal followed the demolition of two dams, the Clark Dam in Southington and the Carpenter Dam in Meriden, in 2016. The project is expected to finish in two to three weeks, and will allow migrating fish an unobstructed pathway to return to their historic habitats, and barrier-free boating to kayakers and canoeists.
“It’s an inactive water main,” said Anna Marshall, an ecological project manager for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “For 100 years, it’s been blocking flow and sediment and fish migrating upstream. They spawn in
freshwater and go out to Long Island Sound.”
But the fish couldn’t get farther than the base of the dam, or the pipe to access their habitat, thus reducing the variety of wildlife in the area.
Canoeists and kayakers would have to carry their boats and walk around the obstructions.
On Friday, sandbags were placed in the river at the end of Sindall Road in Cheshire to slow the water flow and allow heavy equipment to extract the 100-year old pipe. The remainder of the project will include grading and erosion control.
“It’s a really big deal for Meriden,” said David James, president of the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association. “But it’s also a big deal for the watershed and river community. It opens up a migration route for the fish. The hope is they are going to be spawning new wildlife. It will go all the way to Plainville.”
The two-and-a-half year delay in the project was caused by the need for a plan that would protect active underwater pipes.
“There were issues with the design regarding protection of an active 10-inch main upstream of the project,” said Associate City Engineer Brian Ennis.
“Connecticut Fund for the Environment hired a new engineer and is now proceeding with this phase of the project.”
The demolition is being funded by an $800,000 settlement over contamination from the former Southington landfill. Some of that contamination entered the Quinnipiac River and environmental and wildlife agencies pushed and won a river restoration settlement.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified a local project,” restoration biologist Lauren Bennett told the Record-Journal in 2016.
With the dams gone, the Quinnipiac River canoe trail can be expanded and other efforts made to “bring people back to the river,” Bennett said.
“This project was identified as the most efficient way to restore resources,” said John Champion, of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “It’s a very dangerous area for kayaking and canoeing.”
The work will be complete in time for the 39th annual Downriver Classic Canoe and Kayak Race on May 19. The underwater pipe was the last obstacle for competitors, James said.