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Swans Gut Creek at Big Millpond

MCBP was awarded $225,000 for construction of the Swans Gut (Big Mill) Fish Passage & Resiliency Project by the Restore Americas Estuary (RAE) Estuary Restoration Projects through the National Estuary Program Coastal Watersheds Grant. The project is to build a series of nature- like shallow riffles and pools that will allow fish to move in small steps from tidewater to pool level. Unlike a fish ladder that requires continually maintenance, this will be a natural looking stream channel that provides habitat as well as fish passage. Thus, important forage fish such as alewife, blueback herring and white perch will be able to reach their freshwater spawning grounds and still maintain the picturesque historic millpond and improve resilience of the road.

Maryland’s early settlers harnessed water power by building dams and creating millponds that powered saw mills for lumber and grist mills for grinding grains.  Most mills were obsolete by the turn of the 19th century but the mill ponds remained as a legacy of early industries.  Eventually ecologists came to understand that there were consequences to damning rivers and streams. They came to realize that rivers are really a complex continuous unit that includes the flood plain from headwater to tidewater, and that breaking that continuum diminishes the resilience and services provided by rivers. In addition, dams block upstream movement of fishes that live in tidewater or ocean water from reaching freshwater spawning grounds.  Re-establishing free flowing rivers is commonly practiced throughout the world these days, however, maintaining historic mill ponds does have some benefits.

An innovative practice was successfully built at Bishopville, MD recently whereby the millpond is maintained yet provides for upstream and downstream fish passage as well as stream habitat and resilience. A similar project is planned for the dam at Big Millpond near Stockton, MD.  Project design was funded by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Resiliency through Restoration Initiative and was completed by Underwood and Associates, Annapolis, MD.

The National Estuary Program (NEP) was established in 1987 through the Clean Water Act dedicated to protecting and restoring water quality and ecological integrity of 28 estuaries across the country. The NEP is managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The NEP Coastal Watersheds Grant Program is a nationally competitive program designed to support projects within designated estuaries to tackle urgent challenging issues threatening the well-being of coastal ecosystems.

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