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Environment Matters Audio Podcast

Environment Matters
EPA Region 3
Topic: Fish Ladder
Size: : 3,300k
Time: 03:31

Date: March 28, 2012

[running river]

Nancy Grundahl: For more than two centuries, the Schuylkill River has been an important source for drinking water in the Philadelphia region.

[Opening music]

Hi, I'm Nancy Grundahl at EPA's mid-Atlantic region. Welcome to Environment Matters, another in our series of podcasts. We are talking today with Bill Richardson from our Water Protection Division who specializes in water quality issues at EPA. Bill, what is the health of the fish population in the Schuylkill River and how are fish ladders helping?

Bill Richardson: The Clean Water Act of 1972 has led to dramatic improvements in the Schuylkill's water quality.  Prior to passage of the Clean Water Act, conditions in the Schuylkill River were so poor that many fish species we see today were not present.  Improving conditions have allowed many fish species, like American shad, hickory shad, striped bass and river herring, to return to the river.

Nancy Grundahl: I understand that there's a fish ladder on the Schuylkill River and it has had some good results. How does a fish ladder work?

Bill Richardson: Many dams prevent fish from migrating. Fish ladders allow passage around or above a dam.   The fish ladder on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia is a series of chambers or pools with each successive pool increasing slightly in elevation.  The small increase from pool to pool allows fish to gradually bypass the dam.  The fish ladders allow the fish to follow nature's imperative to head upstream to spawn.  The Fairmount Fish Ladder was designed for the American shad, a fish that migrates from the Atlantic Ocean through the Delaware Estuary and up the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River.  They live their adult lives in the ocean but must be able to migrate to freshwater rivers to reproduce. 

Nancy Grundahl:  What is the history behind Philadelphia's fish ladder?

Bill Richardson: Historically, the Schuylkill supported large numbers of American shad until the construction of dams in the early 1800s.  The Fairmount Dam on the Schuylkill River was built in 1821 to provide water to downtown Philadelphia via the Fairmount Water Works.

The Fairmount Fish Ladder was first built in 1979 on the west side of the Schuylkill River to allow American shad access to upstream spawning areas.  The efficiency of the original ladder was limited due to design and maintenance problems.  The Philadelphia Water Department took over operation and maintenance of the fish ladder in 2004 and with the Army Corps of Engineers and many other agencies renovated and improved the ladder in 2009.

Nancy Grundahl: What types of fish use the ladder?

Bill Richardson: Biologists at the Philadelphia Water Department video monitor the fish ladder. Approximately three quarters are quillback, channel catfish, white sucker, gizzard shad and carp.

There have also been recent increases in the number of American shad that have used the ladder,  most likely due to redesign of the fish ladder and the diligent maintenance performed by Water Department staff.

But, we have also seen a muskrat, turtles and snakes. Also, in the spring of 2005, a river otter swam through. You can see what's swimming through the ladder via a webcam that's been set up. Go to: www.fairmountwaterworks.org/fishcam.php

Nancy Grundahl:  When is the best time to look at the fish cam?

Bill Richardson: The best time is during the spring fish migration season, during April, May and June.

[Closing music]

Nancy Grundahl: A great way to learn more about fish ladders is to visit the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, located near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Thanks, Bill, for being with us today, and thanks to our listeners for joining us on Environment Matters, our series of podcasts.

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