Alabama Power project will help threatened fish move more freely

Alabama Power project will help threatened fish move more freely
A new bridge over Little Canoe Creek in St. Clair County is expected to improve the breeding habitat for the threatened trispot darter. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

A recent project in St. Clair County will help a threatened fish move and reproduce more freely.

The trispot darter is a small, colorful fish with three prominent black saddles on its back and grows up to 1.5 inches long. The species is found only above the fall line in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee within the Coosa River drainage.

A male trispot darter. (contributed)

The fish requires two interconnecting habitats. Outside of breeding season it occupies the peripheral zones of the Coosa River; however, during the breeding season, it moves to even shallower vegetated streams.

“The species utilizes distinct breeding and non-breeding habitats,” said Chad Fitch, a biologist for Alabama Power Company.

However, come late winter, the winter-spawning fish is on the move from main river channels into tributaries and eventually seepage areas, where they congregate and remain until spring.

One breeding site for the trispot darter can be found on Alabama Power property in St. Clair County. The area, a tributary to Little Canoe Creek, is dry about two-thirds of the year but consistently maintains a water channel during the winter.

The site had a road crossing with two metal culverts to allow water passage; however, over time the culverts became perched just above the streambed. To help the fish move through the channel, the culverts were removed and replaced with a bridge.

“This restores the stream to a more natural condition and will allow the fish to easily move through the area. The work was completed in four days and could not have gone more smoothly. Our partners brought their expertise, work ethic and passion for conservation to this project,” Fitch said.

Funding for the project came from Alabama Power and from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), with additional in-kind services provided by Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

Lee Holt and David McCaghren from the USFWS and Kellie Johnston with Cawaco RC&D were instrumental in planning and coordinating funding, while Tod Green from Contech helped design and build the bridge. Alabama Power crew members also helped operate machinery and provide necessary materials.

“The intent was to improve upstream migration by eliminating the barrier posed by the two culverts, while also improving and restoring the natural hydrology of the stream,” said Holt, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alabama Field Office.

Follow-up site visits will be conducted to monitor the trispot darter and assess the project’s impact.

“The relationship between Alabama Power Company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alabama Field Office is outstanding and based on trust and professionalism,” said Jeff Powell, deputy supervisor of the USFWS Alabama Field Office. “We have made great things happen together, including downlisting the tulotoma snail from endangered to threatened; enhanced protections for species like the flattened musk turtle, Black Warrior waterdog and rough hornsnail; improving red-cockaded woodpecker habitat; reintroduction of several rare mollusk species; and more.”

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