Innovative and Effective Approach to Wetland Restoration

The Pin Oak Forest Conservation Area is a 97-acre tract of open space that contains an extremely valuable wetland complex at the headwaters of Woodbridge Creek. The site is located in a heavily developed landscape of northern Middlesex County and is surrounded by industrial, commercial, and residential development. As such, the area suffered from wetland and stream channel degradation, habitat fragmentation, decreased biodiversity due to invasive species, and ecological impairment. The site was viewed as one of only a few large-scale freshwater wetland restoration opportunities remaining in this highly developed region of New Jersey.

Recognizing the unique qualities and great potential for rehabilitating and enhancing ecological function on this county-owned parkland, a dynamic partnership between government agencies, NGOs, and private industry, was formed to restore the natural function of the wetlands complex, transform the Pin Oak Forest site into thriving habitat teeming with wildlife, and steward this property back to life. The team designed a restoration plan that converted 28.94 acres of degraded freshwater wetlands, 0.33 acres of disturbed uplands dominated by invasive species, and 1,018 linear feet of degraded or channelized streams into a species-rich and highly functional headwater wetland complex.

BEFORE
View of stream restoration area upon commencement of excavation activities. View of containerized plant material staged prior to installation.

 

We used an innovative approach to restore the hydraulic connection of the stream channel with its floodplain in order to support wetland enhancement. Additionally, to further enhance wetlands with hydrologic uplift, the team incorporated microtopography techniques, which creates a variable surface that increases groundwater infiltration and niches that support multiple habitat communities. This resulted in a spectrum of wetland and stream habitats, including the establishment of a functional system of floodplain forest, scrub shrub, emergent wetlands and open water. Biodiversity was also increased through invasive species management, which opened the door for establishing key native flora such as red maple, pin oak, swamp white oak, and swamp rose. The restored headwater wetland system also provides stormwater quality management, floodplain storage, enhanced groundwater recharge onsite, and surface water flows to Woodbridge Creek.

Completed in 2017, the integrated complex of various wetland and upland communities continues to provide high quality habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species including the state-threatened Black-crowned Night heron and Red-headed Woodpecker. The work done at the site significantly enhanced ecological function, providing high-quality habitat on indefinitely-preserved public lands that offer countless benefits to both wildlife and the community.

AFTER
Post-restoration in 2018, looking Northeast. View of wetland enhancement approximately 2 months after completion of seeding and planting activities.

 

Public and private partnerships were and continue to be critical to the success of this project. The diverse partnership includes Middlesex County Office of Parks and Recreation, Woodbridge Township, Woodbridge River Watch, New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Mitigation Council, GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and Princeton Hydro. The partners joined together as stakeholders to identify long term restoration and stewardship goals for Pin Oak Forest Preserve, and nearly four years later, the partners all remain involved in various aspects of managing the property and this project itself, ranging from fiscal oversight by New Jersey Freshwater Wetland Mitigation Council and GreenTrust Alliance, to permit and landowner access coordination performed by Woodbridge Township and Middlesex County, or the ongoing stewardship, maintenance, and monitoring of the project and the larger park, being conducted by being conducted by GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

This project was funded through the New Jersey Freshwater Wetland In-Lieu Fee program. In 2014, GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and Princeton Hydro secured $3.8 million dollars of funding on behalf of the Middlesex County Parks Department to restore three wetland sites, which included Pin Oak Forest.

The Pin Oak Forest project is a great model for showcasing a successful approach to the enhancement of public lands through a dynamic multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder partnership. And, because of proper planning and design, it has become a thriving wildlife oasis tucked in the middle of a densely-populated suburban landscape.

Princeton Hydro specializes in the planning, design, permitting, implementing, and maintenance of wetland rehabilitation projects. To learn more about our wetland restoration, creation, and enhancement services, visit: bit.ly/PHwetland

The Plight of Aging Dams, and One Solution

As dams age, the danger to life and property around them increases. If they were to suddenly fail and flood downstream communities and infrastructure, there would be serious loss of property and life. More and more, dam removal has become the best option for property owners who no longer want or can no longer afford the rising cost of maintenance and repair work required to maintain such a complex structure.

The Courier-Post recently published this Commentary piece titled, “The Plight of Aging Dams, and One Solution”, which was written by Princeton Hydro’s Vice President and Principal Engineer Geoffrey M. Goll:

Many of our nation’s dams, while originally intended to provide benefits for mills, water supply and energy generation, are severely aged and unmaintained. Nearly 20,000 of the dams on the Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams – which doesn’t even include many dams that are not inventoried or known about – were built in the 1960s. With expected lifespans of 50 years, these dams have reached their limit. And by 2020, 70 percent of all dams will be over 50 years old. Like roads and bridges, dams also require upkeep, maintenance and eventually removal or rehabilitation.

As dams age, the danger to life and property around them increases. If they were to suddenly fail and flood downstream communities and infrastructure, there would be loss of property and life. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials, the professional organization for dam safety engineering professionals and regulators, estimates there would need to be a $21 billion investment to repair just 2,000 deficient, high-hazard dams. More and more, the removal of dams has become an option for owners who no longer want or no longer can afford the rising cost of maintenance and repair work required to maintain such a complex structure.

For dams like this, removal benefits local economies, and eliminates threats to people and property in local communities. There are also many byproduct benefits, including restoring fish migration routes, improving water quality, restoring floodplain functions and values, and increasing biodiversity.

On Sept. 8, we had the honor of meeting the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell during a visit of our Hughesville Dam removal project on the Musconetcong River, located in northwestern New Jersey. This project exemplifies the successes that can be achieved through public-private partnerships, including local communities, state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private commercial entities. This is the fifth dam removed on the Musconetcong River by a coalition of stakeholders, led by the Musconetcong Watershed Association. The Department of the Interior (specifically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) provided funding to remove this very old, out-of-compliance dam.

The success of these partnerships is due to the unique strengths that each organization brings to the table. This project achieved the removal of a flood and safety hazard, and will restore additional river miles for migratory fish, improve water quality by removing the heat sink of the reservoir, and provide additional safe passage for recreation along the river.

It is easy to see why Secretary Jewell chose this site to visit, but the old and outdated dam at Hughesville is far from alone. Across the nation, we need to remove dams like this at a much larger scale – aging dams that no longer are of value to us, but increase the danger to those who live downstream. If we can build on this momentum and start to address the issue of dam safety compliance on a national scale, we can address these threats to American’s safety and strengthen local economies.