Fish ain't jumpin'

Fish ain't jumpin'

A dead carp, one of many casualties of the dried-up canal.
Blackstone Canal goes dry

LINCOLN - Fish were beginning to die by the time concerned Lincoln residents reached state and local officials last weekend.

The Blackstone Canal that runs along the river and bikeway was slowly draining away, the result of what town employees would later discover was a breach in one of several dams that controls the water level.

Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond said several spillways are located along the canal. Each spillway, he said, contains cement openings that line the bottom with several boards that control the water levels of the canal.

"So we have spillways and these board dams that begin at the other side of Front Street and go all the way up to the canal," he said. "During the flooding season, we take boards out, and during the dry season, we put boards in."

The canal runs south from Manville to Scott Pond before following the course of the Moshassuck River in southern Saylesville. From there, the water runs into Pawtucket and Providence.

A few weeks back, he said, residents living along Scott Pond noticed the pond's water supply was decreasing.

One resident, fisherman Dave Pickering, noticed on Friday that the canal was incredibly low, which caused between 20 to 25 fish to die near the south-end spillway.

"I got down there on Saturday and I spoke with the rangers for the Blackstone River State Park," he said.

Almond said employees of the Public Works Department made a trip to the canal spillway, located along the bike path near Ashton Dam, to investigate the possible leakage.

Almond said the cause of the leak was first believed to be rotting boards, but town workers soon realized that the cement had ruptured.

He said the boards were removed from the spillway to temporarily repair the breach, causing the water to drain from the canal.

Almond said the physical structures of the canals are owned by the state Department of Environmental Management. The town plans to work alongside DEM staff to come up with a solution for the breach, Almond said.

"There are grants we're applying for, for this type of work, and we'll work with DEM to correct the spillways and we'd like to rebuild them," he said.

Seasonal DEM ranger Albert Klyburg said the town's intent to keep the canal level up was a worthy one, but "it was just the way it was handled temporarily."

"The place that really suffers when the canal is low is Scott Pond, so all the property owners who use it for boating and water activities are the ones that really suffer," he said.

Klyburg, who is also a tour guide at the nearby Capt. Wilbur Kelly House, said the canal is a piece of history dating back hundreds of years.

The Blackstone Canal was built in 1824 in order to connect Worcester County to Providence's seaports.

John Brown originally surveyed a route for the canal in 1796, but the project was postponed until the early 1820s.

During the 20-year postponement, the river had changed to cater to the various mills in Lincoln, including the Unity Manufacturing Company's mill at Manville, the Albion Mill and the Smithfield Cotton and Woolen Manufactory.

Benjamin Wright, an engineer who worked on the Erie Canal, and Homes Hutchinson are responsible for the design of the canal, which took four years to build.

On July 1, 1828, the Lady Carrington carried a boatload of dignitaries from Providence to Albion, but the use of the canal was short lived as disputes over water supply occurred between mill owners and boatmen.

The biggest downfall of the canal was the invention of railroads in the 1840s, as merchants preferred to have their goods shipped by rail.

Pickering had also contacted John Marsland, president of the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone.

As of Monday afternoon, Marsland said water had refilled the canal but it still remained two feet lower than normal.

"I don't think you can paddle the canoe and kayak, because we cleared a few trees from the Kelly house downstream and now there is not enough water to get through there," he said.

"A week before, there were 10 to 12 kayakers, and now you can't use it, but it's a big recreational resource."

Walkers on the Blackstone Bikeway, left, take a moment to look down at the dried-up bed of the Blackstone Canal in Lincoln. Officials say the canal dried up when there was a breach in one of the spillways downstream.


It isn't just the canal that has sunk so low, it's the whole state; blame it on the rotten dam boards (and commissions, too.) And what a great photo of "where the Blackstone Canal used to be," with what appears to be a skull in an abandoned Colorado desert gold mining town? "The trough is empty, podner; might as well go home."

It would be a good time to clear out all the fallen trees from the canal.