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How to Fix a Stream

Restoration at Spring River Preserve reflects a booming trend.

Whether flitting by in an icy stream or nestled next to fresh fiddleheads on a dinner plate, the brook trout represents the best of the great Maine outdoors.

But brookies are sensitive creatures that need cool, clean water and healthy streams. And given our changing climate and the resulting stronger storms, the introduction of non-native fish species, and housing and road development that’s not always well planned,

Maine’s trout streams are in trouble. So, The Nature Conservancy is taking action. With your support, we’re working to restore trout streams at places like the Conservancy’s Spring River Preserve.

The Nature Conservancy purchased Spring River Preserve in 2006 – nearly 10,000 forested acres in Hancock County – and found that many streams there were too warm and acidic to support trout. “Historic log-driving dams had impounded streams,” says Nancy Sferra, the Conservancy’s director of science and stewardship.

“Beavers had blocked drainage culverts and killed streamside trees that provide cooling shade.”

One cause? Badly designed stream culverts. A poorly designed culvert can be a tremendous barrier to fish that can’t pass through because of low water levels. And even a small culvert can hold water in ponds, making the stream unsuitable for some animals. Without a natural stream flow, temperatures and acidity can become too high for trout to survive.

“Road stream crossings and undersized culverts are a huge source of stream impact all across Maine,” Sferra says.

Over the last few years, Sferra has worked with contractors to replace undersized culverts at four locations in Spring River Preserve with new bridges or large, open-bottom arches that span the river bank-to-bank, allowing fish and other species to pass through in a more natural environment. This summer, the Conservancy has funding to install a final bridge.

“The benefits are huge,” Sferra says. “By doing these projects, we’re removing the obstacles that prevent fish from coming upstream, but improving connectivity will also benefit a bunch more species — including local people.”

In recent years, major storms had overwhelmed the small culverts, flooding out the roads that people use to reach their camps. Spring River is one example, but all across Maine, similar efforts to improve water infrastructure can save communities money, make road-stream crossings safer, protect brook trout and the recreational economy that depends upon them, and help keep our water clean, Sferra says.

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