NYPA and federal and state officials attended an event yesterday to mark the start of operation of the passage facility, one of numerous fish and wildlife protection measures being carried out by NYPA under its new 50-year federal license for the power project.

The facility permits the passage of American eels over the project’s main dam, and more than 6200 eels have entered and passed through the system since it went into service July 1.

‘We are extremely pleased by the facility’s performance,’ said John J. Suloway, the Power Authority’s executive director of licensing implementation and compliance, who represented Timothy S. Carey, NYPA’s president and chief executive officer. ‘It has accomplished all we could have hoped for in bringing the eels safely over the power dam and enabling them to continue their migration upstream to the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.’

Suloway cited the ‘invaluable advice and cooperation’ of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a unit of the Department of the Interior, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation during the process that led to the facility’s development and installation.

‘This was a truly collaborative effort between the New York Power Authority and the Service to design a ladder that would enhance the conservation of American eels without reducing any power to NYPA’s customers,’ said Michael Thabault, assistant regional director of Ecological Services, US Fish and Wildlife Service. ‘This eel ladder utilises state-of-the-art techniques to pass American eel upstream at the project. This structure will help our efforts to conserve the American eel by passing more juveniles upstream where they may live to be 30 years old before returning to the ocean to spawn. The monitoring data resulting from daily eel counts at the ladder will provide the Service with very valuable information about the numbers and timing of the migrations of this catadromous species.’

‘Restoring populations of American eel in North America is a daunting challenge to the fishery managers in both the United States and Canada, but we continue to work together and to partner with others to attain this goal,’ added Gerry Barnhart, director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and vice chairman of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

The eel passage facility was designed by C&S Engineers of Syracuse and built by B-S Industrial Contracting, Inc of Gouverneur. A gentle stream of water is provided throughout the system, capitalising on the migrating eels’ instinct to swim upstream against flows on their journey of some 4022km from the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda, in the Atlantic Ocean.

The first part of the passage facility is a 55.5m eel ladder that consists of a shallow metal trough containing a grid of staggered plastic pipes. The eels, generally six to 12 years old and ranging between 13 and 26 inches in length, swim along the trough, pushing against the pipes as they climb from the base of the dam to its top. About a quarter-inch of water flows through the trough.

After moving up the ladder, the eels are counted with an infrared device. They then pass into a collection hopper, which serves as a transition from the ladder to a 293m-long passage pipe, the longest ever installed for an eel passage facility.

The passage pipe, six inches in diameter, leads to a receiving tank. From there the eels pass into a four-foot-diameter pipe that extends into the river and provides a safe haven before they continue upstream.

To measure the facility’s effectiveness, some eels are tagged near the entrance. They can then be tracked by five tag readers strategically positioned to monitor their progress. Preliminary information indicates that it typically takes about one hour for an eel to climb the ladder and another 30 minutes for it to pass through the remainder of the system.

The facility will operate each year from the beginning of July to the end of October, the eels’ annual migration period.

Overall, in line with the relicensing, NYPA is investing more than US$66M in fish and wildlife habitat improvements and related projects, including the eel passage facility; a Fish Enhancement, Mitigation and Research Fund to be administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service; and a research and environmental education fund focused on the project area.