A $56,000 state grant designated to improve fish runs in the First Herring Brook is only the most recent initiative to bring the fish back to Scituate, but by no means will it be the last.
The herring, an important feeder fish to those higher on the food chain and an ecological marker of how well an area is doing, has dwindled in recent years as water consumption increases and there is less of a brook for the fish to spawn in.
The problem is one Scituate officials, alongside those at the North and South River Watershed Association, have been working on for some time.
“We’re continuing to work with the town to manage the flows over the ladder and during the right biological seasons. This grant just awarded was to further that work,” said Samantha Woods, executive director for the NSRWA.
According to Woods, the town has had a longstanding issue with water usage, especially as the town’s reservoirs weren’t initially intended to have such a high demand.
To circumvent the problem, the town has since implemented a water ban during the summer months, started in 2011, focused on irrigation systems. Though it has angered some neighbors, the initiative has helped restore hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to the brook already, Woods said.
The town has also begun looking for leaks throughout the system to further tightening things up.
“We’re making strides in terms of conserving the water,” Woods said. “The summertime is a particular issue. There is no fish returning because we weren’t running the ladders with the right flows, or at all [for the fish to leave the reservoirs] in the fall.”
Though some fish have returned to the brook as the result of recent work, there is much that needs to be done.
The most recent funding will do three things, Woods said. Approximately $8,000 from the grant will go to restore the fish ladders downstream near Old Oaken Bucket Pond – one of the town’s water reservoirs.
Majority of the grant remainder will go to study the fish ladder upstream on Route 3A that leads into the dammed reservoir, which tends to look dry and barren in times of little rain.
In other words, it still doesn’t have a enough water to accommodate fish.
“[There is] a lot more spawning habitat [at the second reservoir] and it would be beneficial to the population if we can get them up there, but it’s probably going to be a bigger fix, so we’re trying to figure out what we can do,” Woods said.
Another smaller portion of the money will go to educational signs along the fish run.
According to Department of Public Works Director Al Bangert, the town has been recognized for its work in the fish run.
“Originally we got an award from the Gulf of Maine Council – it was nice, we’re the only one in the state who got it for the work done already on working on what the Water Department and NSRWA were doing to manage the flow of water better…this is taking it even further and we got the grant because we started the work and we’re committed to improving fish passages,” Bangert said.
State officials have lauded the funding, which comes from the Sustainable Water Management Initiative through the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“Water conservation and demand management are issues important to all communities. This grant will allow Scituate to continue properly mitigating these issues by offering substantial improvements to the First Herring Brook Passage,” said Senator Robert Hedlund (R- Weymouth) in a release. “This grant will also apply tested restoration techniques to help preserve the ecosystems that are in the First Herring Brook Passage.”
“Scituate [is] at the forefront of water conservation,” agreed Rep. Jim Cantwell (D-Marshfield), noting that its efforts have been recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Scituate is one of many communities receiving money from the $929,000 grant program, which looks to assist water-management projects aimed at improving ecological conditions.