Managing Invasive Phragmites and Restoring Natural Wetland Habitat

Non-native Phragmites australis, also known as Common Reed, is a species of perennial grass found across North America, especially along the Atlantic coast, in wetlands, riparian areas, shorelines, and other wet areas like roadside ditches and drainage basins. This aggressively invasive grass can grow up to 20 feet tall, in dense groupings, and tends to spread rapidly, quickly colonizing disturbed wetlands.

Once established, the invasive plant forms a monoculture with a dense mat, outcompeting native vegetation, lowering the local plant biodiversity, and displacing native animals. These landscape changes impair the natural function of the marsh ecosystem by altering its elevations and tidal reach. A higher, drier marsh leads to less vigorous growth of native salt marsh vegetation, allowing Phragmites australis to gain a stronger foothold and continue to take over.

USDA NRCS Plants Database phragmites illustrationPhragmites australis can also eliminate small, intertidal channels and obliterate pool habitat that offers natural refuge and feeding grounds for invertebrates, fish, and birds. The spread of invasive Phragmites australis also has negative impacts on land aesthetics and outdoor recreation by obscuring views and restricting access. And, each Fall, when Phragmites australis die off, the large concentrations of dry vegetation increase the risk of fast-spreading fires near highly populated residential and commercial areas.

Over the last century, there has been a dramatic increase in the spread of Phragmites australis, partly due to an increase in residential and commercial development that resulted in disturbances to wetlands. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rapid spread of Phragmites australis in the 20th century can also be attributed to the construction of railroads and major roadways, habitat disturbance, shoreline development, pollution, and eutrophication.

Princeton Hydro has worked in areas throughout the East Coast to address and properly manage Phragmites australis in order to restore natural habitats and enhance plant diversity, wildlife habitat, and water quality. Two recent projects include the restoration of John A. Roebling Memorial Park in Hamilton and Pin Oak Forest Conservation Area in Woodbridge, New Jersey.

John A. Roebling Memorial Park

Mercer County’s John A. Roebling Memorial Park is home to the northernmost freshwater tidal marsh on the Delaware River, the Abbott Marshlands, an area containing valuable habitat for many rare species. Unfortunately, the area experienced a significant amount of loss and degradation, partially due to the introduction of the invasive Phragmites australis.

For Mercer County Park Commission, Princeton Hydro put together a plan to reduce and control the Phragmites australis, in order to increase biodiversity, improve recreational opportunities, and enhance visitor experience at the park. This stewardship project replaced the Phragmites australis with native species in order to reduce its ability to recolonize the marsh.

By Spring of this year, the team expects to see native species dominating the landscape from the newly exposed native seed bank with minimal Phragmites australis growth.

Pin Oak Forest Conservation Area

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 New Jersey. As such, the area suffered from wetland and stream channel degradation, habitat fragmentation, ecological impairment, and decreased biodiversity due to invasive species, including Phragmites australis.

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. 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.

This award-winning restoration project converted over 30 acres of degraded freshwater wetlands, streams and disturbed uplands dominated by invasive species into a species-rich and highly functional headwater wetland complex. The resulting ecosystem provides valuable habitat for wildlife including the state-threatened Black-crowned Night-heron and Red-headed Woodpecker. Biodiversity was also increased through invasive species management, which allowed establishment of native plants such as pin oak, swamp white oak, marsh hibiscus, and swamp rose. The restored headwater wetland system provides stormwater management, floodplain storage, enhanced groundwater recharge onsite, and surface water flows to Woodbridge Creek, as well as public hiking trails, all benefiting the town of Woodbridge.

Managing and Monitoring Phragmites

Scientific field research continues to be conducted in order to identify the best way(s) to manage and control the spread of Phragmites australis. Depending on the landscape and how established the Phragmites australis population is, there are several different methods that can be effective in reducing Phragmites australis infestations in order to allow for the regeneration of native wetland plant communities and protect fish and wildlife habitat.

Recently, a group of more than 280 scientists, resource managers and policy professionals gathered together at the Hudson River Estuary Program’s (HEP) annual conference to explore how natural and nature-based solutions (i.e. building living shorelines, enhancing tidal wetlands and stream corridors, and conserving vulnerable floodplains) can be used as critical tools for addressing the impacts of climate change while also protecting and enhancing critical habitat.

The conference included six interactive workshops and dynamic panel discussions. Christiana Pollack, GISP, CFM of Princeton Hydro, Terry Doss of New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Kip Stein from New York City Parks, and Judith Weis of Rutgers lead a panel discussion, moderated by Lisa Baron from U.S. Army Corps Engineers, on “The Yin and Yang of Estuarine Phragmites Management” to share lessons learned over many years of combating invasive species, including how sea level rise is changing minds and techniques.

Together, representing decades of experience in Phragmites australis management and research, these experts presented the evolving nature of restoration for this habitat type, common control/management methodologies, and longterm management and monitoring strategies for this reed and other invasive species. During the panel discussion, Christiana made specific mention of the Roebling Park project as one example of successful strategies in action.

If you’re interested in learning more and seeing photos from a few recent Phragmites australis management projects, click below for a free download of Christiana’s full presentation.

Through a combination of prevention, early detection, eradication, restoration, research and outreach, we can protect our native landscapes and reduce the spread of invasive species. Learn more about our invasive species removal and restoration services.

 

NJ Takes Serious Steps to Prevent Harmful Algal Blooms

Photo by: Lake Hopatcong Commission

Last year, there were more than 70 suspected and 39 confirmed Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in New Jersey, which is significantly higher than the previous two years. New Jersey wasn’t the only state impacted by HABs. The increase caused severe impacts on lakes throughout the country, resulting in beach closures, restricting access to lake usage, and prompting wide-ranging health advisories.

In November, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and officials from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) announced a three-pronged, $13 million initiative to reduce and prevent future HABs in the state. As part of the initiative, NJDEP hosted its first regional HABs Summit with the goal of prevention by improving communication throughout lake communities and sharing information ahead of the warmer months when HABs begin to appear.

The summit, which was held on January 28, 2020 at NJDEP’s Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Education Center in Warren County included a Q&A panel discussion, information resource tables for one-on-one discussions, and presentations from a variety of NJDEP representatives and environmental experts. Princeton Hydro’s  Director of Aquatics and regional HABs expert Dr. Fred Lubnow’s presentation focused on how to properly and effectively manage HABs.

According to Dr. Lubnow, “Managing loads of phosphorous in watersheds is even more important as the East Coast becomes increasingly warmer and wetter thanks to climate change. Climate change will likely need to be dealt with on a national and international scale. But local communities, groups, and individuals can have a real impact in reducing phosphorous levels in local waters.”

In a recent press release from Governor Murphy’s office, the NJDEP Chief of Staff Shawn LaTourette said, “We will reduce HABs by working closely with our local partners on prevention and treatment techniques, while relying on the best available science to clearly communicate risk to the public. Our new HABs initiative will enhance the Department’s ability to evaluate statewide strategies and increase the capacity of lake communities to reduce future blooms.”

New Jersey’s new HABs initiative is comprised of three main components:

Providing Funding:

More than $13 million in funding will be available to local communities to assist in preventing HABs, including:

  • $2.5 million will be available as matching funds for lakes and HABs management grants, including treatment and prevention demonstration projects.

  • Up to $1 million in Watershed Grant funding will be made available for planning and projects that reduce the nonpoint source pollution, including nutrients, that contribute to HABs in surface waters of the State.

  • $10 million in principal forgiveness grants will be offered through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for half of the cost, capped at $2 million, of sewer and stormwater upgrades to reduce the flow of nutrients to affected waterbodies.

Increasing Expertise & Implementing Prevention Tactics:

Per the Governor’s press release, “the second element of the initiative is to build upon the state’s scientific expertise and enhance its capacity to respond to HAB events. This includes establishing a team of experts from across various sectors to evaluate the state’s strategies to prevent HABs and pursuing additional monitoring, testing and data management capacity.”

Connecting with Communities:

The third component is focused on increasing NJDEP’s ability to communicate with affected communities. The regional HABs Summit held on January 28 was one of two Summits that will occur in early 2020 (the date of the next Summit has not yet been announced). NJDEP has also developed new web tools to provide HABs education, offer a forum to discuss and report potential HAB sightings, and better communicate HAB incidents.

To learn more about New Jersey’s new HABs Initiative, click here. To learn more about HABs, check out our recent blog:

Identifying, Understanding and Addressing Harmful Algae Blooms

FREE DOWNLOADS: Mid-Atlantic Stream Restoration Conference Presentations

The Resource Institute hosted its 9th Annual Mid-Atlantic Stream Restoration Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, where water resource professionals, researchers, and practitioners come together for three days to share ideas and learn about stream restoration planning, assessment, design, construction, evaluation, and other topical stream issues. The conference, which was themed Building Resilient Streams in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, included presentations, discussions, exhibits, and pre-conference workshops. Princeton Hydro participated in three presentations on a variety of topics. Below, we provide a synopsis and free download of each presentation:

Innovative Design and Funding Approaches for Dam Removal Projects Where an Unfunded Mandate Exists

Lead Presenter: Kirk Mantay, PWS, GreenTrust Alliance, Inc.
Co-Authors: Geoffrey Goll, P.E.; Princeton Hydro President; John Roche, Maryland Department of Environment; and Brett Berkley, GreenVest.

The presentation provides a detailed look at the removal of the Martin Dam in Fallston, Maryland, and how project partners were able to drastically expand the footprint of this emergency dam removal to generate enough ecological restoration benefits to adequately fund the dam removal itself.

The Martin Dam was constructed in 1965 as part of USDA’s sustainable farms pond construction initiative, which promoted aquaculture and subsistence fish production on small farms across the region as an income source for agricultural producers. Dam-related impacts included the permanent loss of spring-fed sedge wetlands, ditching of forested floodplain wetlands, pollution from stream bank entrenchment, and thermal impacts to a wild brook trout population downstream.

Overtime, the dam structure began to degrade. With each state and local agency inspection that was conducted, the dam increased in hazard category. In 2016, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) was forced to list the dam as a, “public safety hazard at risk of immanent failure.” The landowner, unable to fund the dam removal, contacted GreenTrust Alliance (GTA), a regional green infrastructure nonprofit organization, for help.

By emphasizing the ecological benefits of restored wetlands and streams above and below the dam as well as the critical public safety hazard faced by residents and motorists downstream, GTA, in partnership with Princeton Hydro and GreenVest, was able to secure restoration funding for the site. The design and permitting was lead by Princeton Hydro, and the dam was safely breached as part of restoration construction in January 2019.

Learn more and download the full presentation.

 

Columbia Lake Dam Removal; Using Drones for Quantitative Evaluation of River Restoration

Lead Presenter: Beth Styler-Barry of The Nature Conservancy
Co-Authors from Princeton Hydro: Geoffrey Goll, P.E., President; Casey Schrading, EIT, Staff Engineer; Kelly Klein, Senior Project Manager, Natural Resources; and Christiana Pollack, CFM, GISP, Senior Project Manager, Environmental Scientist.

In order to explore the use of drone or UAV technology to evaluate the effects of dam removals, the presentation showcases the Columbia Lake Dam removal, the largest dam removal in New Jersey to date.

The Columbia Lake Dam, built in 1909, was 18 feet high, 330 feet long dam, and stretched more than 1.5 miles on the Paulins Kill less than 0.25 miles upstream from its confluence with the Delaware River. As part of The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) mission to improve the quality of the Paulins Kill, removing this “first blockage” was the cornerstone of the larger mission. Princeton Hydro served as the engineer-of-record, designing and permitting this project. Dam removal activities commenced in 2018 and were finalized in 2019. Its removal opens 10 miles of river for fish migration and improves recreation access, floodplain reconnection, habitat enhancement and higher water quality.

TNC will conduct five years of monitoring, a vitally important component of this project, to determine long-term ecological uplift, short-term positive and negative effects, and to develop data to provide information for future dam removals. And, as a result of the programmable and repeatable nature of drone flight paths, such monitoring will be able to be conducted for years and decades, producing invaluable data for research and future project design.

The presentation reviews the various parameters investigated, the results and significance of the data retrieved, and recommendations for the use of drone technology for future ecosystem restoration projects.

Learn more and download the full presentation.

Modeling 3D Rivers in AutoCAD to Enhance Design and Deliverables

Lead Presenter: Daniel Ketzer, PE, Princeton Hydro Senior Project Manager, River Restoration
Co-Authors from Princeton Hydro: Eric Daley, Water Resources Engineer; Cory Speroff, MLA, ASLA, CBLP, Landscape Designer; and Sumantha Prasad, PE, ENV SP, Water Resource Engineer

This presentation provides an overview on how to create 3D river models based on geomorphic input to enhance the overall accuracy and quality of a river restoration project.

In river restoration, the proposed geometry of the river channel is the key part of the design. It impacts earthwork, utility conflicts, plan set layout, and many other aspects of the project. In larger projects with reaches measuring thousands of feet and greater, manual grading is extremely time consuming and tedious; and determining the entire implication of the proposed design is difficult to achieve when simply analyzing proposed cross-sections and profiles. To increase efficiency and maintain uniformity throughout the subject reach developing a 3D-surface model of the proposed restoration reduces design time and increases quality. AutoCAD Civil 3D can be used to convert the proposed profiles and cross-sections from a geomorphic design into a 3D surface of the river corridor.

The presentation goes through the key steps that need to be taken and strategic questions that need to be asked when modeling 3D rivers in AutoCAD along with important tips and reminders.

Learn more and download the full presentation.

Stay tuned for our Spring Events Spotlight to learn how you can participate in upcoming environmental events! Click here to read more about Princeton Hydro’s river restoration services.