The existing 1930’s era fish ladder at the Willowdale Dam on the Ipswich River is not very good at its job of allowing fish to swim over and past the dam to important habitat upstream. With the vast majority of the Ipswich River watershed located upstream of this site, improving fish passage at Willowdale is a critical component of watershed-wide efforts to restore healthy populations of native fish species.
Back in 2006 the MA Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) commissioned a feasibility study that explored various options for improving fish passage at the dam for a wide range of species. No action was taken following the 2006 report because of the dam owner’s interest in keeping the dam in place and the relatively high cost of installing the upgraded fish ladder options.
Efforts to improve fish passage at the Willowdale Dam on the Ipswich River are now being rekindled. Representatives from MA Division of Marine Fisheries, Foote Brothers Canoe and Kayak, Essex County Greenbelt, Ipswich River Watershed and the Towns of Hamilton and Ipswich met to discuss the proposed new Willowdale fish ladder on Tuesday, January 26th, 2016. The Division of Marine Fisheries has entered an agreement with Foote Brothers (the dam owner) to install a less expensive, modular fish ladder on the north side of the dam to replace the existing ladder on the south side. The proposed Alaskan steeppass ladder would be installed in 2017 and greatly improve access for some species including river herring.
We are optimistic about the potential near-term positive impact that this new ladder could have on restoration efforts, but do expect that future fish passage improvements will eventually be needed. Thanks to DMF and Foote Brothers for their work to improve passage at this site. We look forward to counting many more fish swimming up and over this dam in the coming years.