Wilton’s Comstock Brook dam to be removed for trout conservation

WILTON — A longstanding dam at Comstock Brook has been approved for removal by the Wilton Inlands Wetlands Commission to help preserve the native population of brook trout.

Gerald Berrafati, of the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit organization focused on coldwater ecosystem conservation, said his group has been tasked with the gig and hopes to have the project finished this summer.

Brook trout have been impeded by the existence of dams, Berrafati said, such as the one currently standing in the Comstock Brook.

“First, dams present physical barriers for fish to travel upstream,” said Berrafati, a lifelong Wilton resident. “Brook trout, especially in the area where we live, where the streams are pretty marginal and don’t stay as cold as we would like them to 100 percent of the time during the year, it is important to have connectivity throughout (the body of water) so that the fish can move around and seek out places where there is other cold water springs or sources of cold water.”

Berrafati said the brook trout, among other fish, are prone to covering long distances to find cold water to thrive and to “seek habitats they could spawn in.” While the Comstock Brook isn’t as long as the Norwalk River, Berrafati said the dam still prevents the brook trout from accomplishing that goal.

The brook trout isn’t officially listed on the endangered species list for Connecticut, he said, but it is a fish that “is threatened” if “corrective action isn’t taken.”

The scope of the project isn’t overly expansive, and if the group can address the problem soon, it will be a fairly quick fix, he added.

“These dams we are working with on the Comstock Brook are smaller structures, built more by hand,” he said. “What our plans are calling for is to take an excavator and break the dam into two or three pieces and take it out.”

He said the initial work of removing the roughly 100-year-old dam could be done within a day, but measures will be taken so that there is no effect on the surrounding ecosystem.

The more intensive work, Berrafati said, is reconstructing the water channels at the Comstock Brook dam site.

The nonprofit organization will have to complete the project by Oct. 1 of this year, so as to not interrupt brook trout spawning processes, or wait again until after April 1. Berrafati said Trout Unlimited is also working on removing a number of other dams in Wilton and the surrounding area, including the Dana Dam and Merwin Meadows Park.

Trout Unlimited has scouted numerous dams to be removed in Wilton, and many of them share a common trend, Berrafati said: The dams were “not necessarily built to serve any function or purpose,” but rather to divert water to private landowners for small ponds or water features.

Many of those being worked on by Trout Unlimited are akin to that of Comstock Brook, smaller handmade dams that will not take long to remove the structure. Concurrently, the Dana Dam at Merwin Meadows has been in the process of being removed, according to Berrafati, and is the largest dam removal project in the state.

“Some dam removals are very expensive and lengthy,” he said. “The Merwin Meadows dam being removed, that is a massive, massive structure.”

Berrafati said he hopes the much smaller Comstock Brook will be removed in August or early September, and the ensuing water channel reconstructions can be made in short order.