Employee Spotlight: 3 Team Members Earn Maryland DNR Certifications

Here at Princeton Hydro, our team members are committed to learning new technologies, staying ahead of regulatory changes, expanding their knowledge, and earning professional certifications in order to better service our clients and the public.

Today, we are proud to put the spotlight on three team members who recently achieved new professional certifications from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).

Environmental Scientist Duncan Simpson, PWS, earned his Maryland Biological Stream Survey (MBSS) Fish Crew Leader certification. He is the only person to have earned this prestigious certification in 2020. He also successfully completed the MBSS Physical Habitat Assessment.

Staff Scientists Ivy Babson and Jesse Smith passed the written MBSS Benthic Macroinvertebrate Sampling Certification test, and successfully completed the related field audit.

The MBSS program was started by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in 1993 in order to improve consistency among all individuals in Maryland using MBSS habitat assessment protocols so that habitat data are comparable. The MBSS was Maryland’s first probability-based or random design stream sampling program intended to provide unbiased estimates of stream conditions with known precision at various spatial scales ranging from large 6-digit river basins and medium-sized 8-digit watersheds to the entire state. This program is a cost-effective and efficient way to characterize Maryland’s 10,000+ miles of freshwater streams.

Duncan attended the Fish Crew Leader and Physical Habitat Assessment certification trainings, which were held virtually due to COVID-19. Following the trainings, he successfully passed the required written exams and field audits.

For the habitat assessment field audit, Duncan had to complete an assessment and arrive at the same conclusions as the MBSS experts. He assessed a stream reach for several instream and upland habitat characteristics including audits of bank erosion; bank formation and substrate; stream character; woody debris; max depth; channelization; and riparian vegetation.

The fish crew leader audit required Duncan to lead a team of individuals on a mock fish sampling event during which he was responsible for overseeing that the crew using the MBSS Round Four Sampling Protocol. In order to pass the audit, Duncan had to illustrate his intimate familiarity with every aspect of MBSS sampling and have at least three years of experience with MBSS sampling or with another comparable ecological field sampling effort.

“I first learned about the MBSS certification in 2010 and have been hoping to take the training and earn the certification ever since. I truly admire and respect the scientific rigor of MBSS, so to be recognized with this prestigious certification is a great milestone in my career and something that I’m very proud of.” – Duncan Simpson

For Staff Scientists Ivy and Jesse, the MBSS Benthic Macroinvertebrate field audit required that they collect kicks/jabs in twenty locations within the stream reach, located within the Elbow Branch in Susquehanna State Park. These twenty kicks/jabs were divided up into different microhabitat types depending on which were most dominant in the reach. The MBSS auditor simultaneously collected the same number of each microhabitat type.

The twenty kicks performed by each sampler were compiled into one sample that was preserved and sent to the Maryland State Labs for analysis. In order to pass the audit, Jesse and Ivy’s Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (a metric based on the diversity and tolerance of the organisms collected) had to be within one unit of the auditor’s. Additionally, their successful audit hinged on having the correct supplies and on decontaminating their gear to prevent the spread of invasive species.

“The training experience with MBSS allowed me to gain a deep appreciation of the role that benthic macroinvertebrates hold in our freshwater ecosystems. I’ve been able to develop a unique skillset to help my, and ultimately others’, understanding of benthic macroinvertebrate species richness and what they indicate in terms of water quality that contribute to the health of these special ecosystems.” -Ivy Babson

 

“I’ve had an interest in aquatic macroinvertebrates since college, and this training experience with the MBSS helped me further appreciate the process that goes into studying them and the ecosystems in which they live. This certification will allow me further opportunities to work with these organisms in the future, and I look forward to more work in this area.” – Jesse Smith

In total, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers five certification opportunities in MBSS protocols. The certifications include benthic macroinvertebrate sampling, benthic macroinvertebrate laboratory processing and subsampling, fish crew leader, fish taxonomy, and physical habitat assessment. In some cases, prerequisite certifications and trainings are required in order to apply and complete the DNR’s MBSS certifications. For example, in order to achieve the benthic macroinvertebrate taxonomy program, a previous Society for Freshwater Science certification is required.

Attendance at MBSS spring and summer trainings is a partial requirement for most of the certifications. Participants must pass written tests and field audits, as well as additional tests and quality assurance procedures. Passing a laboratory audit and a written test is also required for the benthic macroinvertebrate laboratory processing and subsampling certification.

Congratulations to Duncan, Ivy, & Jesse!

Click here for more information about the MBSS certification program. If you’re interested in learning more about the wide variety of engineering and environmental services Princeton Hydro offers, go here: princetonhydro.com/services.

Miry Run Ponds Master Plan Wins 2021 Landscape Architectural Chapter Award

Miry Run Ponds Master Plan - Mercer County

Over 40 years ago, Mercer County purchased 279 acres of flood-prone land along Miry Run  as part of a restoration and flood mitigation initiative. Mercer County’s Master Plan, approved in 2020, goes above and beyond the original vision, proposing considerable improvements to the area, including 34 acres of reforestation, 64 acres of new meadows, 19 acres of vernal pools, and 7.9 miles of walking trails. Mercer County Park Commission contracted Princeton Hydro and Simone Collins Landscape Architecture to develop the plan.

Today, we are thrilled to announce that the Miry Run Ponds Master Plan was awarded the 2021 Landscape Architectural Chapter Award from the New Jersey Chapter American Society of Landscape Architects (NJASLA).

Each year, the NJASLA Professional Awards honor the best in landscape architecture in the region. Only one Chapter Award is given annually for exceptional performance in any category, as determined by a unanimous vote of the jury members. This year’s jury was composed of distinguished members from the Oregon ASLA Chapter. There were 19 total projects entered into the 2021 competition.

“The Park Commission is honored to have a project recognized by the NJASLA and we look forward to acting on our plan in the years ahead,” said Park Commission Executive Director Aaron T. Watson.

When Mercer County acquired the property in 1978, the original plan was to create a recreation area and flood control site. In order to mitigate local flooding, the County Park Commission developed a dam, which created a 55-acre tree-lined lake. The rest of the property comprises undeveloped uplands, wetlands, woodlands, and open space with limited-use recreation areas primarily only used by immediate neighbors.

With 55 acres of lake space, however, Mercer County saw huge potential for what the park could provide and set out on a mission to create a Master Plan for the area with three primary regional goals:

  • Provide passive recreation to complement other County activities;
  • Preserve and enhance the habitat, water quality, and natural systems that currently exist onsite; and
  • Provide linkage to adjacent trails and parks.

The gap between the current condition and the huge potential pushed the Mercer County Park Commission to contract Princeton Hydro and Simone Collins Landscape Architecture in 2018 to assess the land area and propose a concept plan to enhance the area and create recreational lake activities.

Beginning in December 2018 and throughout the course of 2019, the project team implemented the necessary measures to fully assess the status of the expansive property. Applying expertise in science-based assessment and evaluations, our aquatic ecologists and environmental scientists performed:

These evaluations were conducted in order to better understand the existing site and area conditions, to assist in the development of the site plan, and for future incorporation into Mercer County’s Draft Master Plan.

In addition, our project team facilitated focus groups with local municipalities, residents, interest groups, and County stakeholders to seek their input and to report the site evaluation findings. In partnership with Mercer County, the team led many public community meetings that served as a platform for discussion about the project and conceptual site designs. The meetings helped to inform the process through collaboration and determine how best to manage the site moving forward in order to meet the needs of the community and future generations.

In November of 2019, a draft master plan was released, followed by a 60-day public comment period. The commission hosted a series of public meetings to solicit input for potential improvements to the park. Having reviewed and considered all comments, the Park Commission’s Steering Committee and team of expert consultants were able to finalize the plan, which focused on environmental stewardship and education paired with passive land and water-based activities.

“With input from the public, our consultants helped us create a vision for the park that will improve water quality in the lake and make it more accessible to Mercer County residents,” said Aaron T. Watson.

The Master Plan was then presented to the Park Commission for review and approved in 2020.

The improvement plans comprises:

  • Several types of trails and boardwalks that total approximately 7 miles, including a tree canopy walk-through over an area of vernal pools.
  • Parking lots and driveways
  • Small restrooms and pavilions
  • A group camping area that would accommodate about 30-40 campers
  • A nature-based playground and an ADA inclusive playground
  • Kayak launch and water trail
  • Fishing access areas
  • Protected swimming area for a limited number of swimmers each day
  • A native plant arboretum and horticultural garden

Of the total Miry Run Ponds land area, only 17 acres, or approximately 7.4 percent of the site, would be disturbed for trails, parking and other park visitor facilities. The site’s valuable natural features will be augmented through the establishment of 34 acres of new forest and 64 acres of native meadow.

The Master Plan serves as a long-term vision for improvements to the property and will be implemented over multiple phases. The construction of major park improvements is projected for 2022-2023.

To view the Final Master Plan, visit the Park Commission’s website. To learn more about the NJASLA and see a complete list of 2021 award winners, go here.

Deadline Approaching for Municipal Compliance on NJ Stormwater Rule

March 2, 2021 is the deadline for New Jersey’s municipalities to comply with the new stormwater management ordinances laid out in the New Jersey Stormwater Management Rule (N.J.A.C. 7:8).

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) revised the rule last year to now require construction projects to include green infrastructure in order to meet the three performance criteria that NJDEP sets forth for stormwater management. The new rule gives local governments an opening to revise their existing stormwater management ordinances to better manage flooding and improve compromised water quality.

The rule defines green infrastructure as, “a stormwater management measure that manages stormwater close to its source by: treating stormwater runoff through infiltration into subsoil; treating stormwater runoff through filtration by vegetation or soil; or storing stormwater runoff for reuse.”

The pre-existing rule required that major developments incorporate nonstructural stormwater management BMPs/strategies to the “maximum extent practicable” to meet their criteria. The amended rule not only gives specific suggestions for the kind of BMPs it’s looking for by adding a definition of green infrastructure, but it also makes those BMPs/strategies a requirement for compliance with the rule’s minimum standards. Also included in the rule are tables outlining the application of each type of stormwater BMP.

Another update to the rule is that motor vehicle surfaces are now incorporated into the definition of major development. The amended rule requires these motor vehicle surfaces to have 80% total suspended solids (TSS) removal in order to maintain water quality. These surfaces include standard pavement drive/parking areas and gravel and dirt drive/parking areas, according to the rule. However, the rule does not require water quality control for runoff from other impervious surfaces that are not traveled by automobiles, such as rooftops and sidewalks, or other paved walkway areas.

New Jersey municipalities need to comply with the new standards and the ordinances must be in effect by March 2nd, 2021. To make this transition a bit smoother, NJDEP released a revised Model Ordinance in Appendix D of the NJ Stormwater BMP Manual to act as a sample for municipalities to follow when adopting these new regulations.

The Watershed Institute also drafted its own Model Ordinance to help municipalities go beyond the updated rule and strengthen protections to benefit the environment. The Model Ordinance builds on the state’s baseline requirements with the following enhancements:

  • Reduced threshold definition for major development
  • Requirement for major developments to treat runoff from all impervious surfaces for water quality
  • Requirement for stormwater management for minor development over 250-square-feet
  • Stormwater management for redevelopment
  • The use of Low Impact Development techniques
  • Maintenance reporting requirements

At the end of last year, The Watershed Institute held a webinar about the state’s new Green Infrastructure rule. The webinar, attended by 240 people, included three presentations that provided a detailed look at the NJDEP’s rule updates and the steps needed for local governments to comply.

The presentations, given by the following green infrastructure experts, are available to view in full:

You can view the full webinar by clicking here.

 

At Princeton Hydro, we recognize the benefit of green infrastructure and we’ve been incorporating it into our engineering designs since before the term was regularly used in the stormwater lexicon. We’ve been following the rule amendments very closely, and, last year, we developed the following blog to help folks garner a deeper understanding of green infrastructure, interpret the rule updates, and break down the complexities of the stormwater guidelines:

Understanding The Updated NJ Stormwater Rule

If you have further questions regarding green infrastructure or stormwater utilities, we encourage you to contact us.

UPDATE: Hudson River Habitat Restoration Study Completed & Chief’s Report Signed

Photo from USACE

As part of the multi-faceted effort to restore the vital Hudson River ecosystem, the USACE New York District launched the Hudson River Habitat RestorationPrinceton Hydro led the Hudson River Habitat Restoration Integrated Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment for USACE. For this project, we established and evaluated baseline conditions through data collection and analysis; developed restoration objectives and opportunities; prepared an Environmental Assessment; and designed conceptual restoration plans for eight sites.

This week, Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, USACE Commanding General and 55th U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, signed the Hudson River Habitat Restoration Ecosystem Restoration Chief’s Report, which represents the completion of the study and makes it eligible for congressional authorization.

As stated in the USACE-issued news release, “The Chief’s Report recommends three individual ecosystem restoration projects including Henry Hudson Park, Schodack Island Park, and Moodna Creek within the 125-mile study area from the Federal Lock and Dam at Troy, NY to the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. These projects would restore a total of approximately 22.8 acres of tidal wetlands, 8.5 acres of side-channel and wetland complex, and 1,760 linear feet of living shoreline with 0.6 acres of tidal wetlands. The plan would also reconnect 7.8 miles of tributary habitat to the Hudson River through the removal of 3 barriers along Moodna Creek.”

“The signing of this Chief’s Report is a significant milestone for the HRHR Project,” said Col. Matthew Luzzatto, USACE New York District Commander. “This has truly been a team effort and I want to thank our non-federal sponsors, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Department of State, and all of our engineers, scientists, and partners at the local, state and federal level for their unwavering support.”

Read the full press release here. And, for more background information on the Feasibility Study and proposed restoration work, check out our original blog post:

Feasibility Study Identifies Key Opportunities for Hudson River Habitat Restoration

Client Spotlight: Musconetcong Watershed Association

In this photo, Princeton Hydro team member gathers data on the Hughesville Dam removal, using GPS to check the elevation of the constructed riffle on the beautiful Musconetcong River.

Welcome to the latest edition of our Client Spotlight Blog Series! Each spotlight provides an inside look at our collaboration, teamwork, and accomplishments with a specific client. We value our client relationships and pride ourselves on forming strong ties with organizations that share our values of creating a better future for people and our planet.

Meet the Musconetcong Watershed Association

The Musconetcong Watershed Association (MWA) is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and improving the quality of the Musconetcong River and its watershed, including its natural and cultural resources. Members of the organization are part of a network of individuals, families, and companies that care about the Musconetcong River and its watershed, and are dedicated to improving the watershed resources through public education and awareness programs, river water quality monitoring, promotion of sustainable land management practices, and community involvement.

Princeton Hydro has been working with MWA in the areas of river restoration, dam removal, and engineering consulting since 2003. To develop this Client Spotlight, we collaborated with MWA’s Executive Director Cindy Joerger and Communications Coordinator Karen Doerfer:

Q: What makes MWA unique?

A: As a watershed association, we focus on a specific place. This includes the Musconetcong River, a National Wild and Scenic River, as well as the area’s cultural, historical, recreational, and natural resources. We take a watershed focus, seeking to monitor the river and upstream areas to ensure it maintains good water quality.

Q: What does MWA value?

A: MWA values community. Our membership is mostly grassroots, including residents, riverfront landowners, farmers, and local businesses. We value the long-term community of people who have helped form the organization, improve the river, and protect the scenic and historic resources that make our watershed unique.

Q: How long has MWA been working with Princeton Hydro?

Dam removal project partners and community members pose with Sally Jewell at the Hughesville Dam removal event on Sept. 8, 2016. Photo Credit: USFWS.

Project partners pose with Sally Jewell at the Hughesville Dam removal event in 2016. Photo Credit: USFWS.

A: Princeton Hydro has helped MWA with dam removal projects since the very first one, the Gruendyke Mill Dam, which was an obsolete dam on the border of Hackettstown and Mount Olive. Since then, Princeton Hydro has helped with four other dam removal projects and is currently assisting in the removal and restoration of the Beatty’s Mill Dam in Hackettstown, providing engineering plans and project management support.

The dam removals in the lower Musconetcong River have created a free-flowing passage to the Delaware River, and the removal of the Hughesville Dam welcomed the return of American shad less than a year after its removal.

Q: What types of services have Princeton Hydro provided to your organization?

A: Princeton Hydro has provided MWA with dam removal services on the Musconetcong River, most notably, the removal of Hughesville Dam, which brought Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, out for its notching. Princeton Hydro has also helped us with the engineering and design for the Musconetcong Island Park Project, which involves the demolition of a building in a Historic District and the replacement of new, safer stairs.

We value Princeton Hydro’s expertise in environmental permitting, hydrology, and fisheries, as we have utilized this expertise to review development proposals and conduct fish surveys.

Q: Do you have a favorite or most memorable project we’ve worked on together?

A: The Hughesville Dam removal saw many successes and a few challenges we had to overcome as a team. After the initial removal and restoration, we worked together on another streambank restoration project to further stabilize the streambank near the dam removal site. This dam removal restored over 5 miles of free-flowing river to the Delaware River and will help lay the groundwork for the Warren Glen Dam removal, which is the largest dam on the Musconetcong River.

Hughesville Dam Removal on the Musconetcong River

Bringing fish back to native spawning grounds always makes us feel good! After Superstorm Sandy, millions of dollars were spent to remove dams from coastal waters and since then, species like American Shad, Eastern Brook Trout, and River Herring are making a comeback in our fresh water bodies. We had the pleasure of working on two of the projects mentioned: the removal of the Hughesville Dam on the Musconetcong River (video below) and Wreck Pond in Spring Lake, NJ. Full story: http://bit.ly/2SFtaEb

Posted by Princeton Hydro on Monday, December 10, 2018

 

Q: What are some exciting things your organization is working on right now?

Photo from Princeton Hydro led volunteer clean-up effort on the Musconetcong River in 2018. The team picked-up garbage along the road and riverbank, and pulled trash from the riverbed.

Photo from a Princeton Hydro-led volunteer cleanup effort on the Musconetcong River in 2018.

A: MWA is still working to restore the Asbury Mill, which we plan to use as an educational and eco-tourism hub for the community, as well as a much-needed office space for our growing staff.

We’ve also received some exciting new grants that will help us continue to involve the community in efforts to protect and improve water quality. Our “Push Back the Lawn” campaign will allow us to reach out to small landowners and educate them on the importance of riparian buffers.

This year has also brought some challenges for our organization, but we are excited to be picking up our River Cleanup again this fall. Normally, we conduct a watershed-wide cleanup in April, but due to COVID-19, we had to push it back. However, families and small groups are glad to be able to get out and give back by picking up trash that has collected with increasing staycations and small trips.

Q: What drives you to want to go to work every day?

A: Working for such a small organization, it is easier and more gratifying to see the impact it’s making. Our staff gets to see a lot of projects from start to finish, so it’s rewarding to be able to have your stamp on something you watched grow from its inception to conclusion.

Q: How can Princeton Hydro support you/your organization in the future?

A: In the upper watershed, we are hoping that Princeton Hydro, in concert with others, can continue to help guide improvements to the water quality of Lake Hopatcong. The lake acts as our headwaters and is the largest in New Jersey. Last year, it suffered a serious issue with Harmful Algal Blooms.

We are also looking forward to the Beatty’s Mill Dam removal project, where we will remove a remnant dam and reduce streambank erosion. We hope this will roll into another similar project at Newburgh, which should improve water quality and fish habitat and decrease flooding severity in the Hackettstown area.

Delaware River Watershed Forum participants tour dam removal sites along the Musconetcong River.

Delaware River Watershed Forum participants tour dam removal sites along the Musconetcong River in 2019.

Click below to read the previous edition of our Client Spotlight blog series, which features the Lake Hopatcong Foundation:

Client Spotlight: Lake Hopatcong Foundation

The Ecogeomorphic Evolution of Louisiana’s Wax Lake Delta

By Brittany Smith, Environmental Scientist at Princeton Hydro 

As a graduate student in the geology program at the University of Texas at Austin, I worked on a study that used remote sensing to explore links between coastal geomorphology and ecology at the Wax Lake Delta in Louisiana. In this blog, I provide a snapshot of my research, which was recently published in the journal Remote Sensing.

 

What is the Wax Lake Delta?

The Wax Lake Delta is a small, young river delta in Louisiana that began growing in the 1940s after the construction of the Wax Lake Outlet. In 1941 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dug the Wax Lake Outlet from the Atchafalaya River – it extended out to the coastline and was designed to reduce the severity of floods in nearby Morgan City.

Image by NASA/Jesse Allen: While the Mississippi River Delta has been washing into the Gulf of Mexico and receding just to the west the Wax Lake and Atchafalaya River deltas (pictured above) are growing. Satellite imagery shows how the deltas have grown between 1984 (left) and 2014 (right).

This outlet provided a constant flow of water to be diverted from the river before reaching the banks of Morgan City, which had experienced several devastating floods. Approximately 40 percent of the Atchafalaya’s discharge gets channeled through the Wax Lake Outlet, which has the capacity to carry a maximum of 440,000 cubic feet per second.

Following the creation of the Wax Lake Outlet, the turbulent flow of water began to carry sediment down the outlet, which deposited at the mouth of the outlet and, over time, caused an underwater delta to grow. In just over 40 years, the Wax Lake Delta grew from nothing to an area twice the size of Manhattan. Research shows that it receives 34 million tons of sediment per year. Today, it spans roughly 7 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and provides valuable habitat for a variety of animals.

 

The Why Behind the Research

Many coastal areas have been retreating or drowning as a result of subsidence and decreased sediment availability due to upstream dams and levees. According to the Population Reference Bureau, “Today, approximately 3 billion people — about half of the world’s population — live within 200 kilometers of a coastline. By 2025, that figure is likely to double.”

This population is increasingly vulnerable to flooding and erosion due to sea level rise and storms, especially in coastal Louisiana, where land loss is prevalent due to subsidence and decreased sediment supply.

The Wax Lake Delta is one of the few places in coastal Louisiana that is building rather than losing land, so is seen as an example of processes that could be applied elsewhere on the Gulf Coast to mitigate subsidence and restore coastal wetlands. Additionally, it is an ideal study site because it is relatively small, young enough that it has a good historic record, and has been largely unaltered by human activities.

This image depicts the study area: (a) The Wax Lake Delta (WLD, red square) is located at the terminus of the Wax Lake Outlet (blue line), which diverts water from the Atchafalaya River (purple line) in the U.S. state of Louisiana. The Atchafalaya is a distributary channel for the Mississippi (green line) and Red (red line) Rivers. (b) Image of WLD from 28-Sep-2010 by Landsat [88], for water level y = 0.35 m (NAVD88) at Camp Island gage (yellow dot) [93]. (c) Image of WLD from 24-Apr-2011 by Landsat [88], for water level y = 0.67 m (NAVD88) at Camp Island gage. WLD Pintail Island test case area outlined in white.

 

The Research in a Nutshell

Elevation is a very important variable in coastal ecosystems, as it controls how frequently a site is flooded. This in turn controls how frequently sediment can be delivered or removed from the site, and also what type of vegetation will grow there.

To understand how the Wax Lake Delta is growing, it would be ideal to have an understanding of how the topography has changed over time. Unfortunately, very little elevation data was available for the Wax Lake Delta, so I had to develop an indirect way of getting this information.

Photo Credit: Field and StreamWhat I did have available was a significant amount of Landsat satellite imagery. This was useful to me for two reasons: the delta is extremely flat and low-lying (less than 3 feet above sea level), and the tidal cycle typically fluctuates between 0-3 feet above mean sea level. This means that since each satellite image is taken at a different water level, different parts of the delta are exposed above the water in each picture. Taken together as a group over time, we can start to get a sense of which areas are higher and more likely to be exposed, and which areas are more likely to be flooded, and therefore at a lower elevation.

To do this in a quantitative way, I took all the images taken over a three year period and converted them to binary images, where land was classified as 1, and water classified as 0. I then added the images together, to create a composite image where pixels with higher values corresponded to areas that were exposed more frequently, and pixels with lower values were more frequently flooded.

Using water level data from a USGS gauge station that was installed at the delta in late 2008, I was able to develop a probability distribution of water levels. Taking these together – a probability map of flooding frequency and a probability distribution of water level elevations – I was able to create topographic maps based on the Landsat satellite imagery.

By performing this method over a number of years, patterns emerge about how the delta is evolving over time. The island changes from a relatively amorphous, unorganized shape to a defined outer levee and inner island platform.

Photo Credit: The National Wildlife FederationA deeper knowledge of the delta topography, allows us to look at connections to the delta ecology. We know that elevation controls hydrology and therefore plant growth, but we have also seen situations where plants can in-turn affect elevation by contributing organic matter to the soil, preventing erosion due to the root mat, or trapping sediment with their stems when sediment-laden water flows through.

In the case of salt marshes, previous studies have shown that if there is a feedback between the two, it occurs because a) plants tend to be most productive at a specific elevation and b) plants are in some way contributing to sediment accumulation relative to their productivity.

Photo Credit: USGSFor example, if a plant grows best at an elevation of two feet, it grows really densely at two feet, contributes more organic matter to the soil, bigger roots grow that help increase cohesion and reduce erosion, and the stems are denser and trap more sediment when the area is flooded. These all help increase the elevation of the marsh over time. However, if the elevation starts to get too high, the plant grows less densely, contributes less to the marsh surface, and the elevation will drop back down until the plant is happy again. Over time, the surface of the marsh will start to organize around these ideal elevations, creating a terraced effect with platforms corresponding to different plant types that do particularly well at that elevation.

When we look at how a transect down the center of the delta island has changed over time, we see that it goes from a relatively smooth, straight line, to a stepped system comparable to the models from other studies. When we compare the elevations of these platforms to the vegetation communities at the delta, we find that they correspond positively to high-marsh and low-marsh plants. This suggests that there is feedback occurring between plants and sediment accumulation at the delta.

 

In Conclusion

This research a) developed a new approach for investigating changes in coastal topography using satellite imagery, and b) confirmed that there is likely to be feedbacks between sediment deposition, marsh elevation, and vegetation growth. These feedbacks should be considered in any coastal wetland restoration and land building efforts.

 

Brittany Smith is an Environmental Scientist with an extensive background in hydrology and ecology. At Princeton Hydro, she has been involved in a wide variety of projects including stream assessments, wetland water budget modeling, soil field assessments, GIS analysis, permitting, and aquatic ecology. She holds a Master of Science in Geology with an emphasis in hydrology and geomorphology from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Bachelor of Science in Plant Biology from the University of California at Davis. Brittany has strong skills in data analysis and management, as well as experience in a broad range of field and laboratory techniques.

 

Using an Ancient Technology in a New Way: Preventing Algal Growth with Biochar

Photo by: Colleen Lyons of the Lake Hopatcong Commission

Photo by: Colleen Lyons of the Lake Hopatcong Commission

The use of biochar, a pure carbon, charcoal-like substance made from organic material, to enhance soil fertility is thought to have originated over 2,000 years ago in the Brazilian Amazon. Archeological studies indicate populations of native Amazonians used biochar to amend nutrient-poor soils to increase agricultural productivity.

Biochar is generally produced through a process called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the decomposition of organic matter brought about by high temperatures (typically 800°F) in an environment with limited oxygen. The word pyrolysis is coined from the Greek-derived elements pyro “fire” and lysis “separating.”

Recently, biochar has received tremendous attention and its usage has moved beyond traditional agricultural and landscaping soil amendment applications. It is being championed as a useful technique for soil restoration, carbon sequestration, and – the one we’re most excited about – water quality management.

Photo by: Colleen Lyons of the Lake Hopatcong Commission

Photo by: Colleen Lyons of the Lake Hopatcong Commission

That’s right! Biochar has been shown to improve water quality by removing dissolved phosphorus from fresh waterbodies limiting algal growth and reducing the likelihood of harmful algae blooms (HABs).

Biochar can be placed in floatation balls, cages, or sacks, which are then tethered along the shoreline and in critical locations throughout the waterbody, like where an inlet enters a lake.

The benefits of biochar far outweigh the relatively low-cost investment. In addition to phosphorus removal and algal growth prevention, once the biochar’s capacity to absorb phosphorus has been exhausted, it can be re-purposed as compost for soil enrichment.

Photo by: Colleen Lyons of the Lake Hopatcong Commission

Photo by: Colleen Lyons of the Lake Hopatcong Commission

Princeton Hydro recently installed biochar flotation bags in various locations throughout Lake Hopatcong, including the Lake Winona outlet, the Lake Forest Yacht Club inlet, Lakeside Avenue and Holiday Avenue inlet in Hopatcong, and the Edith Decker School outlet in Mount Arlington.

The biochar bag installation, which was funded by the NJDEP Freshwater HABs Prevention & Management Grant provided to the Lake Hopatcong Commission (LHC) and its project partner the Lake Hopatcong Foundation (LHF), is one part of a multi-pronged lake management plan that aims to prevent the development of HABs and protect the overall water quality of Lake Hopatcong. Last summer, Lake Hopatcong – along with freshwater lakes throughout the country – was hit hard by a HAB outbreak that caused beach closures, health advisories, and water quality degradation.

Princeton Hyrdo has been working with the LHC, LHF, Morris & Sussex Countys, and local municipalities to implement a number of lake management strategies, including the recent dispersal of Phoslock, a different type of HAB-battling material, in Landing Cove, which was the largest application of Phoslock ever completed in the Northeast. Read more about it in our recent blog:

Mitigating Harmful Algal Blooms at Lake Hopatcong: Largest Application of Phoslock in Northeast

The team also installed Floating Wetland Islands, which use a mix of microbes and native plants to remove excess algae-causing nutrients from the water, in different areas of Lake Hopatcong.

Over the coming weeks, our team is installing more biochar bags in Roxbury, NJ at Duck Pond and in Mount Arlington, NJ at Memorial Pond. Stay tuned for more info! To learn more about our water quality management services, go here: bit.ly/pondlake.

6 Ways to Celebrate Lakes Appreciation Month

July is Lakes Appreciation Month – a great time of year to enjoy your community lakes and help protect them.

Lakes Appreciation Month was started by North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) to help bring attention to the countless benefits that lakes provide, to raise awareness of the many challenges facing our waterways, and to encourage people to get involved in protecting these precious resources.

“You work and play on them. You drink from them. But do you really appreciate them? Growing population, development, and invasive species stress your local lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. All life needs water; let’s not take it for granted!” – NALMS

Chemical pollutants, stormwater runoff, hydrocarbons, invasive aquatic species, and climate change are just a few of the the serious threats facing lakes and other freshwater habitats. So what can you do to to help?


We’ve put together six tips to help you celebrate Lakes Appreciation Month and get involved in protecting your favorite lakes:

1. Join the “Secchi Dip-In” contest

The “Secchi Dip-In” is an annual citizen science event where lake-goers and associations across North America use a simple Secchi disk to monitor the transparency or turbidity of their local waterway. Created and managed by NALMS, volunteers have been submitting information during the annual Dip-In since 1994. Get all the Dip-In details here.

2. Monitor and report algae blooms

With the BloomWatch App, you can help the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency understand where and when potential harmful algae blooms (HABs) occur. HABs have the potential to produce toxins that can have serious negative impacts on the health of humans, pets, and our ecosystems. Click here to learn more and download the app here. For more information on HABs, check out our recent blog.

3. Commit to keeping your lake clean

Commit to keeping your lake clean: Volunteers play a major role in maintaining the health and safety of community waterways. If you’re interested in helping to conserve and protect your water resources, you can start by cleaning up trash. Choose a waterbody in your community; determine a regular clean-up schedule; and stick to it! Cleaning your neighborhood storm drains really helps too; click here to find out how.

Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle
4. support your local lake

You can help support your favorite lake by joining or donating to a lake or watershed association. As an organized, collective group, lake associations work toward identifying and implementing strategies to protect water quality and ecological integrity. Lake associations monitor the condition of the lake, develop lake management plans, provide education about how to protect the lake, work with the government entities to improve fish habitat, and much more.

5. Get outside and enjoy (safely)

There are countless ways to enjoy and appreciate your community lakes. During Lakes Appreciation month, take photos that illustrate how you appreciate your community lakes, share them on social media using the hashtag: #LakesAppreciation, and hopefully you’ll inspire others to show their Lake Appreciation too.

6. ENTER the Lakes Appreciation Challenge

NALMS invites you to participate in its social media photo contest, titled “Show Your Lakes Appreciation Challenge.” To participate: Take a picture of yourself or someone you know enjoying or working on a lake or reservoir during July. And, upload the photo to Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter using a descriptive caption and the #LakesAppreciation hashtag. Three winners will be determined via a raffle and announced via social media on Monday, August 3rd. Learn more.

fishing on lake

To ensure you’re staying safe while participating in Lakes Appreciation Month and all outdoor activities, please be sure to follow local regulations and the CDC’s recommended COVID-19 guidelines.

To learn more about NALMS and get more ideas on how to celebrate your local lakes, go here: https://www.nalms.org. If you’re interested in learning more about Princeton Hydro’s broad range of award-winning lake management services, go here: http://bit.ly/pondlake.

 

Bloomfield: Restoration Efforts Transforming Industrial Site Into Thriving Public Park

A densely developed, flood-prone, former industrial site in Bloomfield, New Jersey is being transformed into a thriving public park and 4.2 acres of wetlands. This is thanks to the Third River Floodplain Wetland Enhancement Project, which broke ground in March of 2019. The project will restore valuable ecological functions and natural floodplain connection, enhance aquatic and wildlife habitat, and increase flood storage capacity for urban stormwater runoff.

The project team has already made tremendous progress at the site, which is located along the Third River and Spring Brook, two freshwater tributaries of the Passaic River. Princeton Hydro is serving as the ecological engineer to Bloomfield Township; our scientists and engineers have assisted in obtaining grants, collected background ecological data through field sampling and surveying, created a water budget, completed all necessary permitting, designed both the conceptual and final restoration plans, and continues to conduct construction oversight during the implementation of this important urban wetland creation project.

The project team recently utilized a drone to document the significant progress being made:

 

View of the construction progress with the proposed wetland to the upper half of the photo. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

View of the construction progress with the proposed wetland to the upper half of the photo. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Close-up view of the wetland construction progress. Note the hummocks and hollows created with the wetland soil as well as the habitat features constructed of trees and natural rock uncovered during the excavation process. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Close-up view of the wetland construction progress. Note: the hummocks and hollows created with the wetland soil as well as the habitat features constructed of trees and natural rock uncovered during the excavation process. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Nearly complete grading of the proposed wetland. Note the hummocks and hollows created with the wetland soil. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Nearly complete grading of the proposed wetland. Note: the hummocks and hollows created with the wetland soil. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Over 500 trees and shrubs have been planted in the new wetland with additional trees and shrubs planted along Lion Gate Drive and in existing woodlands. The selected native plant species all provide important wildlife value, including providing food and shelter for migratory birds. Enviroscapes was contracted to install all of the trees and wetland plants at this site and has nearly finished planting efforts:

Removing invasive species and replacing them with native plants, shrubs and trees sets the stage for a flourishing native plant community year after year.

Removing invasive species and replacing them with native plants, shrubs and trees, sets the stage for a flourishing wetland habitat.

The project is progressing quickly as the weather warms. Nearly all of the plantings have been installed and seeding is happening in the next two weeks.

This green infrastructure project will re-establish the natural floodplain wetland and riparian plant communities.

This green infrastructure project will re-establish the natural floodplain wetland and riparian plant communities.

We’re excited to see what the restoration will look like when it’s all finished. Check out additional photos below and stay tuned for project updates!

To learn more, check out the full story below:

Urban Wetland Restoration to Yield Flood Protection for Bloomfield Residents

Understanding and Addressing Invasive Species

Photo from: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, water chestnut bed at Beacon

Spring is officially here! Tulips will soon be emerging from the ground, buds blossoming on trees and, unfortunately, invasive plant species will begin their annual growing cycle. No type of habitat or region of the globe is immune to the threat of invasive species (“invasives”). Invasives create major impacts on ecosystems throughout the world, and freshwater ecosystems and estuaries are especially vulnerable because the establishment of such species in these habitats is difficult to contain and reverse.

This blog provides an introduction to invasive aquatic species, including information that will help you prevent the spread of invasives in the waterways of your community.

Defining Invasive Species

Invasive species can be defined as non-native occurring in an ecosystem that is outside its actual natural or native distributional range. Although the colonization of an ecosystem by non-native species can occur naturally, it is more often a function of human intervention, both deliberate and accidental. For aquatic ecosystems some species have become established as a result of the aquarium trade, fish culture practices and/or transport of plants and animals in the bilge and ballast water of trans-oceanic shipping vessels.

One of the primary reasons invasives are able to thrive, spread rapidly, and outcompete native species is that the environmental checks and predators that control these species in their natural settings are lacking in the ecosystems and habitat in which they become introduced. The subsequent damages they cause occur on many ecological levels including competition for food or habitat (feeding, refuge and/or spawning), direct predation and consumption of native species, introduction of disease or parasites, and other forms of disruption that lead to the replacement of the native species with the invasive species. As a result, invasives very often cause serious harm to the environment, the economy, and even human health. A prominent example is the Emerald Ash Borer, a non-native, invasive beetle that is responsible for the widespread death of ash trees.

As noted above, there are a large number of aquatic invasive species. Some of the more commonly occurring non-native aquatic plant species that impact East Coast lakes, ponds and reservoirs include:

Understanding How Invasives Spread

Either intentionally or unintentionally, people have helped spread invasives around the globe. This is not a recent phenomenon but rather something that has been occurring for centuries. “Intentional introductions,” the deliberate transfer of nuisance species into a new environment, can involve a person pouring their home aquarium into a lake or deliberate actions intended to improve the conditions for various human activities, for example, in agriculture, or to achieve aesthetics not naturally available.

Photo by: Tom Britt/CC Flickr, zebra Mussels adhered to a boat propeller“Unintentional introductions” involve the accidental transfer of invasives, which can happen in many ways, including aquatic species attached to the hull of boats or contained in bilge and ballast water. A high-profile example is the introduction of zebra mussels to North America. Native to Central Asia and parts of Europe, zebra mussels accidentally arrived in the Great Lakes and Hudson River via cargo ships traveling between the regions. The occurrence, density, and distribution of Zebra mussels occurred at an alarming rate, with the species spreading to 20 states in the United States and to Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Due to their reproductive fecundity and filter-feeding ability, they are considered the most devastating aquatic invasive species to invade North American fresh waters. They alter and diminish the plankton communities of the lakes that they colonize leading to a number of cascading trophic impacts that have especially negative consequences on fisheries. Zebra mussel infestations have also been linked to increased cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae) blooms and the occurrence of harmful algae blooms (HABs) that impact drinking water quality, recreational use, and the health of humans, pets, and livestock.

Additionally, higher than average temperatures and changes in rain and snow patterns caused by climate change further enable some invasive plant species to move into new areas. This is exemplified by the increased northly spread of hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillate), a tropical invasive plant species that has migrated since its introduction in Florida in the 1950s to lakes, rivers, and reservoirs throughout the U.S.

Regardless of how any of these invasive species first became established, the thousands of terrestrial and aquatic invasive species introduced into the U.S. have caused major ecological, recreational and economic impacts.

Measuring the Impacts of Invasives

After habitat loss, invasive, non-native species are the second largest threat to biodiversity. According to The Nature Conservancy, “Invasive species have contributed directly to the decline of 42% of the threatened and endangered species in the United States. The annual cost to the nation’s economy is estimated at $120 billion a year, with over 100 million acres (an area roughly the size of California) suffering from invasive plant infestations. Invasive species are a global problem — with the annual cost of impacts and control efforts equaling 5% of the world’s economy.”

Of the $120 billion, about $100 million per year is spent on aquatic invasive plant control to address such deleterious issues as:

  • Human health (West Nile Virus, Zika Virus)
  • Water quality impacts (Canada geese)
  • Potable water supplies (Zebra mussel)
  • Commercial fisheries (Snake head, lamprey, Eurasian ruffe, round goby)
  • Recreational activities (Eurasian watermilfoil, water chestnut, hydrilla)
  • Biodiversity (Purple loosestrife, common reed, Japanese knotweed)

Invasive species can change the food web in an ecosystem by destroying or replacing native food sources. As the National Wildlife Federation explains, “The invasive species may provide little to no food value for native wildlife. Invasive species can also alter the abundance or diversity of species that are important habitat for native wildlife. Additionally, some invasive species are capable of changing the conditions in an ecosystem, such as changing soil chemistry…”

Addressing Invasives

Our native biodiversity is an irreplaceable and valuable treasure. Through a combination of prevention, early detection, eradication, restoration, research and outreach, we can help protect our native heritage from damage by invasive species.

What Can We Do?

  • Reduce the spread
  • Routinely monitor
  • Document and report
  • Spread the word

Reducing the Spread:
The best way to fight invasive species is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. There are a variety of simple things each of us can do to help stop the introduction and spread of invasives.

  • Plant native plants on your property and remove any invasive plants. Before you plant anything, verify with your local nursery and check out this online resource for help in identifying invasive plants.
  • Thoroughly wash your gear and watercraft before and after your trip. Invasives come in many forms – plants, fungi and animals – and even those of microscopic size can cause major damage.
  • Don’t release aquarium fish and plants, live bait or other exotic animals into the wild. If you plan to own an exotic pet, do your research to make sure you can commit to looking after it. Look into alternatives to live bait.

Monitoring:
The Lake Hopatcong Foundation Water Chestnut prevention brochureInvasive plant monitoring is one of the most valuable site­-level activities people can support. Contact your local watershed organizations to inquire about watershed monitoring volunteer opportunities. For example, the Lake Hopatcong “Water Scouts” program was established to seek out and remove any instances of the invasive water chestnut species.

If you are a lake or watershed manager, the best way to begin an invasive plant monitoring project is with an expert invasive plant survey to determine which invasives are most likely to be problematic in your watershed and identify the watershed’s most vulnerable areas. Contact us to learn more.

 

Documenting and Reporting:
It’s important to learn to identify invasive species in your area and report any sightings to your county extension agent or local land manager. For example, in New Jersey there is the Invasive Species Strike Team that tracks the spread of terrestrial and aquatic invasives and works with local communities in the management of these species. Additionally, consider developing a stewardship plan for your community to help preserve its natural resources. Princeton Hydro’s team of natural resource scientists can help you get the ball rolling by preparing stewardship plans focused on controlling invasive species and protecting the long-term health of open spaces, forests habitats, wetlands, and water-quality in your community.

Spreading the word:
Many people still don’t understand the serious implications of invasive species. Education is a crucial step in stopping the spread of invasives, which is why it’s so important to talk with your neighbors, friends and family about the hazards and ecological/economic impacts of invasive species.

Also consider talking with your community lake or watershed manager about hosting an educational workshop where experts can share their knowledge about invasives specific to your area and how best to address them. Princeton Hydro’s Director of Aquatic Programs Dr. Fred Lubnow recently gave a presentation to the Lake Hopatcong Foundation titled, “Invasive Species in Watershed Management.” View it here.

 

We encourage you to share this article and spread your invasive species knowledge so that together we can help stop the introduction and spread of invasive species.