Wilton dam removal to help flooding and fish in the Norwalk River

WILTON — The removal of the Dana Dam at Merwin Meadows Park has begun its initial phase of construction this week to better help fish travel the Norwalk River.

The Dana Dam currently sits just under 10 miles north of the Norwalk River tributary into the Long Island Sound. It is the first true barrier to fish migration upstream, according to Save the Sound, an environmentally focused nonprofit with outposts in New Haven and New York City overseeing the project.

“Reconnecting the Sound with such a long stretch of the Norwalk River is key to maintaining healthy fisheries and ecosystems throughout the watershed,” Gwen Macdonald, Save the Sound’s director of ecological restoration, said in a statement. “Free-flowing rivers are critical to coastal resilience as well as to the support of native and migratory fish species.”

Save the Sound said that the dam’s removal will “reopen 10 additional miles of upstream habitat for aquatic wildlife,” while helping to mitigate flood risks to surrounding infrastructure in Merwin Meadows Park and downtown Wilton, both downstream from the dam.

This concern is a timely one, as the town recently had numerous flooding issues stemming from the remnants of Hurricane Ida that swept through the region. Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce said on Wednesday that many areas of Merwin Meadows were severely affected by the rain which caused flooding of the Norwalk River. Many trails at the park are now closed to pedestrian or vehicle traffic because of flooding and scattered debris. The swimming pond at Merwin Meadows Park was also flooded, completely submerging the sand. The area remains closed to the public for testing.

The focus of the first phase of construction involves repairing the dam’s lower-level outlet, “a mechanism that lowers the water level behind the dam, which is needed to stabilize and de-water the worksite before the next removal phase can proceed,” Save the Sound said.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit said in a release that it had completed its planning and collected all of the required permitting, with work set to start Thursday.

This phase is expected to take a few weeks.

Funding for this initial step of the project was provided primarily through a grant from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. A number of smaller state and federal grants, along with contributions from smaller local foundations, have also helped the cause.

“As with any dam site, a lot of planning must happen before the actual removal begins, so we’re very excited to see this moving forward after so many people have put so much effort into it,” said Alex Krofta, ecological restoration projects manager at Save the Sound. “This dam removal is another step forward in the decades-long effort by other groups and organizations to restore the Norwalk River.”

A number of local and state partners will be aiding Save the Sound in the dam removal efforts, including DEEP, Trout Unlimited Mianus Chapter and the town of Wilton, which will help oversee the project within its borders.

Save the Sound has been also requested aid from the public, asking that those “who want to support future phases of the project are welcome do so by contacting the organization directly.”