Dry Shepaug River

November, 2016

Drought- The Long Term Losses†† ††††††††

††††††††††† Another day, brilliant sun, above normal temperatures, dry.† We donít have weather anymore, we just have climate, one more suited to the Mediterranean than to southern New England in late fall.† Itís been like this for over one hundred and fifty days now.†

††††††††††† On the day this photo was taken, the city of Waterbury was releasing 2 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from the dam.† The normal minimum release is twenty cfs, but because of the drought, theyíre permitted to release even less.† The average release in normal years is between fifty and seventy cfs.† Twenty cfs is the lowest you can fish the river.† Minimum flow for a kayak run is forty to sixty cfs or higher.

††††††††††† Itís generally assumed that the riverís ecosystem will rebound when the flow returns to normal.† Thatís not the case.† It will actually take years, even given normal flows.

††††††††††† The river is running about one tenth of its normal width, its bed now a series of long, wide cobble fields, broken by greatly shrunken holding pools which all aquatic life, trout, dace, turtles, and crayfish included, retreats to. †A stretch usually one hundred feet wide can now be spanned in many places in two steps.† †With such reduced habitat, the carrying capacity and, more importantly, the reproductive potential of the river plummets.† Crowding increases, food becomes scarce, mortality rises.† Though there is retreat for the lucky few, there is no refuge.† With all life corralled in these islands of retreat, mink, herons, mergansers, and kingfishers feast. †Water this shallow heats up quickly, stressing what aquatic life there is even more.

††††††††††† With conditions this poor, future generations are decimated. Five months ago, those now parched cobble fields were covered with a foot of water or more.† With water, these cobble fields were the riffles, the food factories of the entire ecosystem.† In those riffles, the turbulent and oxygen-rich flow was the breeding ground for the mayflies, caddis flies and stone flies, the principal food of trout and other fish.† You can see their casings attached to the dry cobble by the thousands now, exposed to the sun and air, skeletons unburied.

††††††††††† Brook and brown trout spawn in those riffles, where the rich water and current keeps their eggs growing.† This fall, there are no riffles for the trout to spawn in and this missed generation will depress trout populations for years into the future.

††††††††††† Without increased flows, this winter the river will freeze to the bottom in many places, further starving fish of habitat.† Even in the deeper pools, less habitat means greater stress, as the near dormant fish with their slower metabolisms, struggle even more. †

††††††††††† For now, I scan the skies and the forecasts.† River life doesnít have much time.

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†Hugh Rogers, Washington, CT†††††††††† †

 

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