Study Data Leads to Healthier Wreck Pond Ecosystem

Wreck Pond is a tidal pond located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in southern Monmouth County, New Jersey. The 73-acre pond, which was originally connected to the sea by a small and shifting inlet, got its name in the 1800s due to the numerous shipwrecks that occurred at the mouth of the inlet. The Sea Girt Lighthouse was built to prevent such accidents. In the 1930s, the inlet was filled in and an outfall pipe was installed, thus creating Wreck Pond. The outfall pipe allowed limited tidal exchange between Wreck Pond and the Atlantic Ocean.

In the 1960s, Wreck Pond flourished with wildlife and was a popular destination for recreational activities with tourists coming to the area mainly from New York City and western New Jersey. In the early spring, hundreds of river herring would migrate into Wreck Pond, travelling up its tributaries — Wreck Pond Brook, Hurleys Pond Brook and Hannabrand Brook — to spawn. During the summer, the pond was bustling with recreational activities like swimming, fishing, and sailing.

Over time, however, the combination of restricted tidal flow and pollution, attributable to increased development of the watershed, led to a number of environmental issues within the watershed, including impaired water quality, reduced fish populations, and flooding.

Throughout the Wreck Pond watershed, high stream velocities during flood conditions have caused the destabilization and erosion of stream banks, which has resulted in the loss of riparian vegetation and filling of wetlands. Discharge from Wreck Pond during heavy rains conveys nonpoint source pollutants that negatively impact nearby Spring Lake and Sea Girt beaches resulting in beach closings due to elevated bacteria counts. Watershed erosion and sediment transported with stormwater runoff has also contributed to excessive amounts of sedimentation and accumulations of settled sediment, not only within Wreck Pond, but at the outfall pipe as well. This sediment further impeded tidal flushing and the passage of anadromous fish into and out of Wreck Pond.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused wide-spread destruction throughout New Jersey and the entire eastern seaboard. The storm event also caused a major breach of the Wreck Pond watershed’s dune beach system and failure of the outfall pipe. The breach formed a natural inlet next to the outfall pipe, recreating the connection to the Atlantic Ocean that once existed. This was the first time the inlet had been open since the 1930s, and the reopening cast a new light on the benefits of additional flow between the pond and the ocean.

Hurricane Sandy sparked a renewed interest in reducing flooding impacts throughout the watershed, including efforts to restore the water quality and ecology of Wreck Pond. The breach caused by Hurricane Sandy was not stable, and the inlet began to rapidly close due to the deposition of beach sand and the discharge of sediment from Wreck Pond and its watershed.

Princeton Hydro and HDR generated the data used to support the goals of the feasibility study through a USACE-approved model of Wreck Pond that examined the dynamics of Wreck Pond along with the water bodies directly upland, the watershed, and the offshore waters in the immediate vicinity of the ocean outfall. The model was calibrated and verified using available “normalized” tide data. Neighboring Deal Lake, which is also tidally connected to the ocean by a similar outfall pipe, was used as the “reference” waterbody. The Wreck Pond System model evaluated the hydraulic characteristics of Wreck Pond with and without the modified outfall pipe, computed pollutant inputs from the surrounding watershed, and predicted Wreck Pond’s water quality and ecological response. The calibrated model was also used to investigate the effects and longevity of dredging and other waterway feature modifications.

As part of the study, Princeton Hydro and HDR completed hazardous, toxic, and radioactive waste (HTRW) and geotechnical investigations of Wreck Pond’s sediment to assess potential flood damage reduction and ecological restoration efforts of the waterbody. The investigation included the progression of 10 sediment borings conducted within the main body of Wreck Pond, as well as primary tributaries to the pond. The borings, conducted under the supervision of our geotechnical staff, were progressed through the surgical accumulated sediment, not the underlying parent material. Samples were collected for analysis by Princeton Hydro’s AMRL-accredited (AASHTO Materials Reference Library) and USACE-certified laboratory. In accordance with NJDEP requirements, sediment samples were also forwarded to a subcontracted analytical laboratory for analysis of potential nonpoint source pollutants.

In the geotechnical laboratory, the samples were subjected to geotechnical indexing tests, including grain size, organic content, moisture content, and plasticity/liquid limits. For soil strength parameters, the in-field Standard Penetration Test (SPT), as well as laboratory unconfined compression tests, were performed on a clay sample to provide parameters for slope stability modeling.

The culvert construction and sediment dredging were completed at the end of 2016. Continued restoration efforts, informed and directed by the data developed through Princeton Hydro’s feasibility study, are helping to reduce the risk of flooding to surrounding Wreck Pond communities, increase connectivity between the pond and ocean, and improve water quality. The overall result is a healthier, more diverse, and more resilient Wreck Pond ecosystem.

During the time of the progression of study by the USACE, the American Littoral Society and the towns of Spring Lake and Sea Girt were also progressing their own restoration effort and completed the implementation of an additional culvert to the Atlantic Ocean.  The American Littoral Society was able to utilize the data, analysis, and modeling results developed by the USACE to ensure the additional culvert would increase tidal flushing and look to future restoration projects within Wreck Pond.

American Littoral Society

 

To learn more about our geotechnical engineering services, click here.

Conservation Spotlight: Restoring Fish Passage on the Noroton River

For thousands of years, river herring swam from the Atlantic Ocean through the Long Island Sound and up the Noroton River to spawn each spring. Then, they returned to the ocean until the next spawning season.

Back in the 1920s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration began connecting the country through a massive interstate highway system. As part of the infrastructure plan, hundreds of thousands of culverts were built across the U.S. with the intention of moving water quickly and efficiently. While that goal was met, many migratory fish and other aquatic organisms could not overcome the culverts’ high-velocity flows, shallow water depths, and perched outlets. This infrastructure prevented them from reaching their native migratory destinations.

By the late 1950s, Interstate 95 cut through Connecticut’s coastal rivers, and culverts were installed to convey river flows. Alewives, American Shad, Blueback Herring, and other native fish species were unable to navigate the culverts. Their populations dwindled to the point where Connecticut, along with Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, instituted moratoriums on catching and keeping the valued forage fish.

Along the Noroton River, three parallel concrete culverts, each 300-feet long, 13-feet wide and 7-feet in height were installed, completely blocking upstream fish passage.  In order to restore important fish populations and revitalize the Noroton River, Save the Sound launched a project that reopened approximately seven miles of the river, allowing migratory fish populations to safely and easily travel through the culverts to reach their original spawning habitat upstream.

The project is a collaboration among Save the Sound, Darien Land Trust, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP), Connecticut Department of Transportation, Princeton Hydro, and other partners. For the project, Princeton Hydro lead design engineering and guided the construction of the following elements to restore upstream fish passage:

  • The installation of a concrete weir at the upstream end of the culvert to increase water depths in one culvert during low-flow periods;
  • The installation of concrete baffles to reduce flow velocities and create resting places for fish, and;
  • The installation of a naturalized, step-pool, rock ramp at the downstream end of the project to allow fish to ascend into the culvert gradually, overcoming the two-foot vertical drop present under existing conditions. The rock ramp consists of a grouted riverstone base with large grouted boulders arranged to make steps, with low-flow passage channels, between a series of pools approximately 1-foot deep that create resting places for upstream migrating fish.

Reopening river passage for migratory species will improve not only the health of the Noroton River itself, but will also benefit the overall ecosystem of Long Island Sound. Over the last decade, fish passage projects around the sound’s Connecticut and New York shores have dramatically increased freshwater spawning habitat for the foundational species whose return is restoring a more vibrant food web to the Long Island Sound.

Construction of the baffles and rock ramp were completed in time for the 2018 migratory season. Construction of the concrete weir is on temporary hold for low-flow conditions. On April 26, 2018, project partners gathered for a project celebration and the release of migratory fish by CTDEEP at an upstream location.

“It’s fascinating to feel the change in the flow patterns against your legs as you walk through the baffled culvert knowing that it will now facilitate fish passage through this restored reach,” said Princeton Hydro’s New England Regional Office Director and Water Resources and Fisheries Engineer Laura Wildman, P.E. “It is a very attractive and natural-looking fishway, and we’re proud to have created a design that fits so well into the surrounding landscape.”

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of a dozens of small and large dams in the Northeast.  To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.

AQUATIC ORGANISM PASSAGE: A PRINCETON HYDRO BLOG SERIES

Welcome to the second installment of Princeton Hydro’s multi-part blog series about aquatic organism passage.

What you’ll learn:

  • How does promoting aquatic organism passage benefit ecosystems as a whole?
  • How can others, including people, benefit from aquatic organism passage?
  • How has Princeton Hydro supported it?

Photo by Princeton Hydro Founder Steve Souza

Fostering Ecological Balance in Food Webs

A major consequence of poorly designed culverts published in the NRCS' "Federal Stream Corridor Restoration Handbook"is the destabilization of food webs. Sufficient predators and prey must exist to maintain a balanced food web. For example, freshwater mussels (Unionidae) are a common snack among fish. A mussel’s life cycle involves using certain fish as a host for their larvae until these microscopic juveniles mature into their adult forms and drop off. During this period, the host fish will travel, effectively transporting a future food source with it.

In the presence of habitat fragmentation, the isolation of these symbiotic relationships can be devastating. Some mussel species rely on a small circle of fish species as their hosts, and conversely, some fish species rely on specific mussel species as their food. If a fish species is separated from its mussel partner, food shortages owing to a declining adult mussel population can occur.

Widespread Benefits to Flora, Fauna, and People

A shift in the 1980s recognized the importance of redesigning road-stream crossings for several reasons, including restoring aquatic organism passage and maintaining flood resiliency. Replacing culverts with larger structures that better facilitate the movement of both water and aquatic organisms benefit all species. Roads constructed over streams allow people to travel across natural landscapes while culverts that are fish-friendly convey water at a rate similar to the surrounding landscape, reducing scour in stream beds.

A man fly fishes as his dog sits by his side at Ken Lockwood Gorge, Hunterdon County. Photo from State of New Jersey website.

Fish, as well as semi-terrestrial organisms like crabs and salamanders, can take advantage of more natural stream environments and complete their migrations. Anglers appreciate healthy, plentiful fish populations nearly as much as the fish themselves. Recreation and economic growth also improve when streams regain the aquatic biological communities once lost through habitat fragmentation. According to USFWS, for every dollar spent on restoration through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Coastal Program Restoration Project, states gain $1.90 of economic activity. Stream restoration improves fish and wildlife habitat, which directly supports and enhances recreation opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts thus resulting in increased tourism-related spending and job growth.

Aquatic Organism Passage in Action at Princeton Hydro

Princeton Hydro recently completed a project to facilitate aquatic organism passage for river herring in Red Brook in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Read all about it here!

For an introduction to aquatic organism passage, be sure to check out the first post in this multipart-series.

Sources:

“Aquatic Organism Passage through Bridges and Culverts.” Flow. Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Watershed Management Division, 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

Hoffman, R.L., Dunham, J.B., and Hansen, B.P., eds., 2012, Aquatic organism passage at road-stream crossings— Synthesis and guidelines for effectiveness monitoring: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012-1090, 64 p.

Jackson, S., 2003. “Design and Construction of Aquatic Organism Passage at Road-Stream Crossings: Ecological Considerations in the Design of River and Stream Crossings.” 20-29 International Conference of Ecology and Transportation, Lake Placid, New York.

Kilgore, Roger T., Bergendahl, Bart S., and Hotchkiss, Rollin H. Publication No. FHWAHIF-11-008 HEC-26. Culvert Design for Aquatic Organism Passage Hydraulic Engineering Circular Number 26. October 2010.

Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Freshwater Mussels of Michigan. Michigan State University, 2005.

 

Aquatic Organism Passage: A Princeton Hydro Blog Series

Introducing part one of a multi-part blog series about aquatic organism passage
What you’ll learn:
  • What is aquatic organism passage?
  • Why is it important?
  • How does Princeton Hydro support it?

This photo from NYS DEC demonstrates a well-designed stream crossing.

Since the US government began allotting funds for building roads in U.S. national forests in the late 1920s, hundreds of thousands of culverts were built across the country. Culverts, or drainage structures that convey water underneath a barrier such as a road or railroad, were originally built with the intention of moving water quickly and efficiently. While this goal was met, many migratory fish and other aquatic organisms could not overcome the culverts’ high-velocity flows, sending them away from their migratory destinations. If the culvert was perched, or elevated above the water surface, it would require the migratory aquatic animals to both leap upwards and fight the unnaturally fast stream current to continue their journeys. Additionally, turbulence, low flows, and debris challenged the movement of aquatic organisms.

Thus, the goal of aquatic organism passage (AOP) is to maintain connectivity by allowing aquatic organisms to migrate upstream or downstream under roads. AOP “has a profound influence on the movement, distribution and abundance of populations of aquatic species in rivers and streams”. These aforementioned species include “fish, aquatic reptiles and amphibians, and the insects that live in the stream bed and are the food source for fish”.

This photo from NYS DEC demonstrates a poorly-designed stream crossing.

A poorly designed culvert can harm fish populations in multiple ways. If sturgeon aren’t able to surpass it, habitat fragmentation prevails. And so, a once-connected habitat for thousands of sturgeon breaks into isolated areas where a few hundred now live. When the population was in the thousands, a disease that wiped out 80% of the population would still leave a viable number of individuals left to survive and mate; a population of a few hundred will be severely hurt by such an event. In sum, habitat fragmentation raises the risk of local extinction (extirpation) as well as extinction in general.

The splintering of a large population into several smaller ones can also leave species more vulnerable to invasive species. Generally, the greater the biodiversity harbored in a population, the stronger its response will be against a disturbance. A dwindling community of a few hundred herring will likely succumb to an invasive who preys on it while a larger, more robust community of a few thousand herring has a greater chance of containing some individuals who can outcompete the invasive.

Aquatic Organism Passage in Action at Princeton Hydro

Princeton Hydro recently teamed up with Trout Unlimited to reconnect streams within a prized central-Pennsylvanian trout fishery.  Our team enabled aquatic organism passage by replacing two culverts in Pennsylvania’s Cross Fork Creek. Read about it here!

Sources:

“Aquatic Organism Passage through Bridges and Culverts.” Flow. Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Watershed Management Division, 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

Hoffman, R.L., Dunham, J.B., and Hansen, B.P., eds., 2012, Aquatic organism passage at road-stream crossings— Synthesis and guidelines for effectiveness monitoring: US Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012-1090, 64p.

Jackson, S., 2003. “Design and Construction of Aquatic Organism Passage at Road-Stream Crossings: Ecological Considerations in the Design of River and Stream Crossings.” 20-29 International Conference of Ecology and Transportation, Lake Placid, New York.

Kilgore, Roger T., Bergendahl, Bart S., and Hotchkiss, Rollin H. Publication No. FHWAHIF-11-008 HEC-26. Culvert Design for Aquatic Organism Passage Hydraulic Engineering Circular Number 26. October 2010.

The Restoration of Bound Brook

To the delight of fish and environmentalists alike, an important step has been made in the removal of the aging spillway of Hunters Pond Dam in Scituate and Cohasset, Massachusetts. The spillway was notched to ensure a gradual release of water from the impoundment, letting Bound Brook flow free again after being dammed for centuries.

As the first barrier upstream from the Atlantic Ocean, the dam’s removal restores 5-miles of river spawning ground and habitat for alewife, blueback herring, American eel, rainbow smelt, sea lamprey and other important species. The removal of Hunters Pond Dam also reduces the threat of dam failure.

Princeton Hydro is proud to be working on this project with T Ford Company, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many other great partners. The project is funded by grants from the Massachusetts Department of Ecological Restoration and the NOAA.

The project also includes rebuilding a culvert, removing a concrete spillway, and replacing a water main. Stay tuned for more!

Habitat Fragmentation – Culvert Blockages and Solutions

Capture

Culvert that is “perched” due to scour by high velocity flows through the pipe. ©Princeton Hydro.

The Bucks County Chapter of Trout Unlimited (Pennsylvania) and the Cooks Creek Watershed Association were featured in the Summer 2013 edition of Trout magazine, TU’s national publication, for their culvert inventory work in the Cooks Creek watershed.  Princeton Hydro was glad to assist via directly investigating and training of volunteers to inspect and document potential culverts in need of retrofit.  Princeton Hydro also completed design concepts and opinion of costs for two example culverts.  Identified culverts in need of retrofit will help the creek’s wild brown and brook trout.  Princeton Hydro based the training on the Vermont guidelines for rating culverts for pass-ability.  In this small watershed a total of 97 culverts were identified with 32 of them as potential barriers, and 11 identified as “high priority” in need of retrofit.

Why worry about culverts, you say?

One of the most unforeseen danger to the biodiversity in our river networks is habitat fragmentation through un-passable culverts throughout the United States.  While blockages via dams number upward of 100,000 or so, the blockages created by ecologically and biologically inefficient culverts is likely to number in the millions.   The majority of these culverts are located in headwater areas of rivers, which entail greater than 50% of most river miles in a watershed; a large cumulative impact.  As a result, native key headwater species such as brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in the East and cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) in the West have had their historic ranges reduced to a fraction of their former extent.

Historically, culverts were designed by civil engineers to maximize flow capacity and minimize pipe size in order to create the most economical structure for developers, transportation authorities, and municipalities.  The unfortunate by-product of such a design approach is that water velocity through culverts is extremely high, often running in supercritical flow, even during base flow conditions, and the smooth and featureless surfaces in the structure make it extremely difficult to navigate.  To add insult to injury, the high velocity flows also scour and erode the stream channel immediately downstream of the culvert, leaving the pipe too high out of the new channel (“perched pipes”) for organisms to pass.  Downstream water dependent organisms cannot pass upstream to new habitat, and those populations upstream become extirpated due to downstream migration and mortality, and the lack of an ability to return or be replaced.  A study of impacts of fragmentation on brook trout is ongoing by the USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center (USGS CAFRC) and others, and a study recently completed documented the impacts of fragmentation of local populations provides an informative view of the blockage potential of culverted streams.

There is hope in the re-connection of stream habitat through new research and initiatives developed since 1999.  One such approach is through the Stream Simulation design originally developed in its present form at the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife and adopted by the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as others, and was also adopted shortly thereafter and refined by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Extension (Stream Continuity model) for use in Northeastern States (initially in the Massachusetts River and Stream Crossing Standards, and then adopted in similar form by surrounding states).  Through the Stream Simulation/Continuity method, a culvert is not simply measured in terms of hydraulic efficiency, but also in terms of ecological and biological efficiency.

In the most basic terms, Stream Simulation (Continuity) requires a crossing that has a minimum width of the bankfull flow of the natural channel upstream and downstream, plus more width to allow passage of terrestrial organism passage such as reptiles and amphibians (in the UMASS model the increase in width is 20% wider than bankfull, but in the current Washington State model they use 20% plus 2 feet).  The other part of the design requirement is an opening area to length ratio to allow the maximum amount of natural light penetration into the culvert (openess ratio), as many organisms, such as fish, are too intimidated to travel through dark culverts.  Other design requirements include the use of slopes and velocities that allow for fish passage, and roughness (i.e. placement of natural substrate) to also slow down the flow.

The key challenge for the retrofitting of culverts to be more passable is cost.  As with any civil engineering project, the larger it is, the more expensive.  To replace a 36 inch diameter culvert with a 10-14 foot wide structure could increase the cost by 10-fold.  However, there are ways in completing an economic analysis to justify the costs.  For example, most culverts were historically only designed to pass storms up to the 25-year event, but in even more cases, never were sized by engineers.  A larger culvert will increase its capacity and reduce overtopping events that would require road closings and worse, cause the roadway to collapse.  Road closings require emergency management and road crews to set up detours and slowing down commerce, or worse require repetitive reconstruction efforts that, over time, may exceed the cost of installing a Stream Simulation designed culvert.

DSCN2588

Same culvert as in photograph above, after the retrofit using Culvert Simulation. ©Princeton Hydro.

Other ways of encouraging installation of these larger and passable culverts is through the permitting process.  In New England, the US Army Corps of Engineers, allows for a by-pass of a formal review for their approval if the Stream Simulation guidelines are followed. This approach can save a significant amount of time to fast-track a retrofit.  To complement the Corps’ permit facilitation process, the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, have developed stream crossing guidelines to meet the Corps’ permit by rule compliance.  These states have even instituted state level regulations requiring aquatic organism passage via the Stream Simulation model.

Princeton Hydro was contracted to design a culvert retrofit to replace a 36 inch diameter culvert with a 12 foot wide arch culvert on a tributary of West Brook which is being monitored as part of the USGS CAFRC research project in Massachusetts.  This retrofit will be used to assess the increase in efficiency of headwater stream accessibility by local brook trout populations.

It would appear that the Stream Simulation or Continuity model is catching on, however, there needs to be more outreach and changes to existing rules in other regions of the US.  Further studies, such as that being conducted by USGS and their partners, will determine the true benefits of increasing culvert fish passage efficiency and bolster the economics of protecting fish populations for future generations.
——-
Geoffrey M. Goll, P.E.
Vice President and Founding Partner

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