Finishing up Work on the Fish Ladder on the Draka Dam

Finishing up work on the Fish Ladder on the Draka Dam

Kate McPherson, Save The Bay’s Riverkeeper


In late September I invited Brad Chase, fisheries biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MADMF) to meet me in Taunton, Massachusetts. I was curious to see a relatively new fish ladder that was installed in late 2019 on the Draka Dam in the Three Mile River. Save The Bay helped to pay for the fish ladder by applying for a grant from Massachusetts Environmental Trust. I wanted to see if there was any additional work that was needed to complete the project.

Brad Chase cleans the grate at the top of the fish ladder.
Brad Chase, fisheries biologist for the MADMF, cleans the trash rack at the top of the fish ladder.

Brad and his staff have been monitoring the fish ladder during the spring and summer months when river herring are moving up and downstream. The first thing we notice as we walk along the northern bank of the river are some areas that were not replanted after the construction was complete. As we walk up a small but steep hill next to the dam, we see a sandy area that used to have trees and shrubs growing on it. Sandy soil is now washing down the hill and has ended up in the river under the fish ladder. Taking note of the plants already growing near the dam, Brad and I agree that planting a variety of trees, shrubs, and grasses of different sizes will help get deeper roots established more quickly, and will help prevent future erosion. We plan to have a volunteer planting day later this autumn.

During our visit, Brad tells me he’d like to take some measurements of the ladder to make sure it’s built the way it was designed, and he also takes the opportunity to do some routine maintenance. Brad climbs out on top of the dam to remove the trash rack at the top of the ladder and pulls out big fistfuls of mucky plant matter that had clung to the bars. He shows me other features of the fish ladder, including a wooden boom that prevents larger debris from entering it and boards that manipulate water flow to help fish know where to swim.

I notice that a line of small rocks had been placed by visitors in the juvenile shute, and it looks like small fish traveling downstream might have difficulty getting past. As I toss the rocks back out into a deep river section downstream, two hikers approach. We talk about the fish ladder and our plans to replant some of the riverbank. The visitors, who were hiking in Boyden Park, tell me that they didn’t know that this structure is a fish ladder, and I see the potential to do some public education. Perhaps a sign or informational kiosk to let folks know why fish ladders and dam removals are important. I look forward to exploring these ideas with Brad and other partners in the future. 


Save The Bay supports migratory fish restoration through dam removal and the construction of fish passage projects. We also work to expand and improve migratory fish habitat and river connectivity through dam removal and fish ladder projects. Read more on the blog about Save The Bay’s work protecting habitat and wildlife and check out our website for more information on how these initiatives support our mission.

*Please note:  Be sure to access the Johnson & Wales University Harborside Campus through the main entrance on Harborside Blvd. Your GPS may suggest taking Ernest Street to JWU’s Shipyard Street entrance, but that route requires a key card for entry.  

From Route I-95 North or South, take Exit 18 (Thurbers Avenue). Head downhill on Thurbers Avenue to US Route 1A (Allens Avenue). Turn right onto Allens Ave. Continue southbound on Allens Ave. into Cranston, where Allens Ave. becomes Narragansett Blvd. Turn left onto Harborside Blvd. at the traffic light by the Shell gas station. Follow Harborside Blvd. through the Johnson & Wales Harborside Campus. At the end of Harborside Blvd., turn right onto Save The Bay Drive. Save The Bay Drive becomes a circular, one-way roadway as you approach the Bay Center. Parking is available in four guest lots after you pass the main building. Enter the building through the main entrance.

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