Ecological Uplift in an Urban Setting

The City of Elizabeth, the fourth most populous in New Jersey, is not exactly the first place that comes to mind when envisioning a wild landscape. This bustling urban area is well known for its Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal and the Philips 66 Bayway Refinery, and sits at the intersection of several major roadways like the NJ Turnpike and the Goethals Bridge. The landscape, which was once teeming with dense wetlands and associated habitats, is now heavily urbanized with a vast mix of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. The largely channelized Elizabeth River courses through the city for 4.2 miles before draining into the Arthur Kill waterway. However, in this 14-square mile city, native flora and fauna are taking root again thanks to ecological restoration and mitigation efforts.

Urban landscapes like Elizabeth can pose significant challenges for restoration efforts, but they also provide an array of opportunity for significant ecological uplift.

In 2004, Princeton Hydro was retained to restore an 18-acre site adjacent to the Elizabeth Seaport Business Park, which is located in an area that was once part of a large contiguous wetland system abutting Newark Bay. The site was comprised of a significantly disturbed mosaic of wetland and upland areas and a monoculture of Phragmites australis, also known as Common Reed, on historic fill. Historic fill consists of non-native material, historically placed to raise grades, and typically contains contaminated material not associated with the operations of the site on which it was placed.

The highly invasive Phragmites australis had overtaken most of the wetland areas, and the upland woodland areas only contained four tree species, mostly Eastern Cottonwood, with very low wildlife value. The 18-acre site had huge potential but was significantly degraded and was being vastly underutilized. Overall, the mitigation plan focused on the enhancement of existing wetland and transition areas to increase the area’s wildlife value through the establishment of a more desirable, diverse assemblage of native species subsequent to eradication of non-native-invasive species.

2005 (Before Plantings)
2019
In 2004, Prologis hired Princeton Hydro to restore an 18-acre area adjacent to the Elizabeth Seaport Business Park, which a significantly disturbed and degraded mosaic of wetland and upland areas. This project serves as an example of how degraded urban areas can be successfully rehabilitated and the land’s natural function restored and enhanced.

The freshwater wetland aspect of the mitigation plan, which included inundated emergent, emergent, and forested habitat, was designed to be a combination of wetland creation (2.40 acres) and enhancement (8.79 acres), emphasizing the establishment of more species rich wetlands in order to increase biodiversity and improve the site’s wildlife food value.

The upland forest aspect of the mitigation plan involved the enhancement of 5.40 acres and creation of 1.45 acres of upland forest to foster the development of a species rich and structurally complex upland forest. The upland areas targeted for enhancement/creation consisted of areas where woody vegetation was lacking or forested areas that were dominated by eastern cottonwood.

2008
2019
The 18-acre site in Elizabeth, NJ had huge potential but was significantly degraded and was being vastly underutilized. The mitigation plan emphasized the establishment of more species rich wetlands in order to increase biodiversity and improve the site’s wildlife habitat value.

The project team worked to remove Phragmites australis from the site utilizing a combination of herbicide and mechanical removal techniques. Once the Phragmites australis was cleared, the team installed 27,000 two-inch native herbaceous plant plugs in the wetland portions of the mitigation site, and 2,705 native trees/shrubs throughout the site.

In order to ensure the continued success of the mitigation project, monitoring is regularly conducted at the site. A monitoring report conducted at the end of 2019 revealed a plethora of well-established habitat areas, a diverse community of plant and tree species, and a thriving, highly-functional landscape.

2004 (Before Plantings)
september 2019
In 2004, before the restoration work began, the site consisted of degraded Phragmites australis dominated wetlands and an urban woodland area dominated by Eastern cottonwood. The planting component of the mitigation project commenced in 2015, and the installation of all woody plant material began Fall 2015 and was completed in Fall 2016. The 2019 Monitoring Report revealed the plantings are well-established and the area is thriving.

Presently, the Elizabeth Seaport Business Park Mitigation Site boasts a variety of productive wildlife habitats that are rare in a highly urbanized setting and provides valuable ecosystem services, including sediment retention and roosting, foraging, and nesting opportunities for both resident and migratory bird species with over 150 bird species identified within the mitigation site.

2008
2019
The Elizabeth Seaport Business Park site was comprised of a monoculture of Phragmites australis, also known as Common Reed. The mitigation plan focused on enhancing the existing wetland by eradicating non-native-invasive plant species, like Phragmites, and establishing more diverse population of productive, native species with high ecological value.

This project serves as an example of how degraded urban areas can be successfully rehabilitated and the land’s natural function restored and enhanced.  If you’d like to learn more about this project from our Natural Resources Senior Project Manager Michael Rehman, check out the video of his presentation at the 2020 Delaware Wetlands Conference below.

We’re at the Delaware Wetlands Conference and our Senior Project Manager, Michael Rehman, is presenting on a successful urban wetland restoration in Elizabeth, NJ.

Posted by Princeton Hydro on Thursday, January 30, 2020

 

If you’re interested in learning more about our wetland restoration and mitigation services, go here!

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.

Setting the Precedent: Blue Acres Floodplain Restoration in Linden

The City of Linden, located 13 miles southwest of Manhattan in Union County, New Jersey, is a highly urbanized area with a complex mix of residential, commercial, and industrial land uses. Originally settled as farmland on broad marshes, the City has deep roots in industrial production that emerged in the 19th century, and its easily accessible location on the Arthur Kill tidal straight helped fuel this industrial development.

Now, the City of Linden, which is home to more than 40,000 people, is considered a transportation hub: it has three major highways running through it (the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 1, and Route 27); its rail station provides critical commuter and industry access; the Linden Municipal Airport is a gateway to the NY/NJ metropolitan area; and its access point on the Arthur Kill is used by shipping traffic to the Port Authority of NY and NJ.

Unfortunately, the industrial boom left a legacy of pollution in the city, so much, that the Tremley Point Alliance submited an official Envionmental Justice Petition to the state. In 2005, the New Jersey Environmental Task Force selected the community for the development of an Environmental Justice Action Plan and listed it as one of six environmental justice communites in New Jersey.

As do many urban municipalities, Linden suffers severe flooding from heavy rains and storms. One of the significant sources of flood water threatening the City comes from stormwater runoff.

Like other communities in the Arthur Kill Watershed, Linden also suffers severe flooding from heavy rains and storms with one of the significant sources of flood water coming from stormwater runoff. Due to a high percentage of impervious cover from houses, roadways, and sidewalks, even small rain events generate a significant amount of stormwater runoff. Over time, these conditions have been exacerbated by the historic loss of coastal wetlands and outdated infrastructure. Nuisance flooding is especially problematic as runoff cannot drain from the area at a sufficient rate to prevent flooding during normal or elevated tidal conditions. Very simply, heavy rainfall is one factor contributing to recurring flooding.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused wide-spread destruction throughout New Jersey and the entire eastern seaboard. The City of Linden was hard hit, and the City’s Tremley Point neighborhood was especially storm-ravaged. Tremley Point, a low-lying community of about 275 homes located at the headwaters of Marshes Creek and in the 100-year floodplain of the Rahway River, is regularly flooded during normal rain events. During Hurricane Sandy, local news outlets reported that a 15-foot tidal surge overtook Tremley Point homes, destroyed roads, and washed up hazardous material such as a 150-gallon diesel tank.

To help communities like Tremley Point recover, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) launched the Blue Acres program under which NJDEP purchases homes from willing sellers at pre-Sandy market values, so residents in areas of repetitive and catastrophic flooding can rebuild their lives outside flood-prone areas. Structures are demolished and the properties are permanently preserved as open space for recreation or conservation purposes. The program began in 1995 and expanded with federal funding after Sandy. The goal of the Blue Acres Program is to dramatically reduce the risk of future catastrophic flood damage and to help families to move out of harm’s way.

As part of the NJDEP Blue Acres Program, Princeton Hydro, in collaboration with the City of Linden, Rutgers University, NJDEP, Phillips 66, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, and Enviroscapes, has undertaken one of the first ecological restoration projects within Blue Acres-acquired properties, which are located in the Tremley Point neighborhood. This project increases storm resiliency by reducing flooding and stormwater runoff by improving the ecological and floodplain function within the former residential properties acquired by the NJDEP Blue Acres Program.

The City of Linden Blue Acres restoration project increases storm resiliency by reducing flooding and stormwater runoff by improving the ecological and floodplain function within the former residential properties acquired by the NJDEP Blue Acres Program.

The project includes the development and implementation of an on-the-ground green infrastructure-focused floodplain enhancement design involving the restoration of native coastal floodplain forest and meadow, as well as floodplain wetlands. The restored area provides natural buffering to storm surge and enhances floodplain functions to capture, infiltrate, store, and slow excess stormwater to reduce the risk of future flood damage. In addition, it restores natural habitat and provides public recreation access on NJDEP Blue Acres property.

The design includes re-planting the parcels and the installation of a walking path through part of the area. It also includes the creation of a floodplain bench for the adjacent drainage ditch, an unnamed tributary to Marshes Creek. A floodplain bench is a low-lying area adjacent to a stream or river constructed to allow for regular flooding in these areas. Site improvements include grading of the floodplain bench and minor depressional area; 6-12-inches of tilling, soil amendment, and planting within the planting area; and construction of the gravel pathway.

The project will result in valuable environmental and community benefits to the area, including an annual reduction in stormwater runoff of 4.1 million gallons. This represents a 45% reduction in stormwater runoff. Restoration of the floodplain will also help reduce community vulnerability to storms. The hope is that this project will be a model that fosters more floodplain restoration projects in the future.

For more information on the Blue Acres Program, please visit the DEP website.

Regional Watershed Planning: A Critical Strategy to Prevent HABs

Photo by @likethedeaadsea, submitted during our 2019 #LAKESAPPRECIATION Instagram Photo Contest.

Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) were in the spotlight last summer due to the severe impacts they had on lakes throughout the country. Nation-wide, HABs caused beach closures, restricted lake usage, and led to wide-ranging health advisories. There were 39 confirmed harmful algal bloom (HAB) outbreaks in New Jersey alone.

As a reminder, HABs are rapid, large overgrowths of cyanobacteria. These microorganisms are a natural part of aquatic ecosystems, but, under the right conditions (primarily heavy rains, followed by hot, sunny days), these organisms can rapidly increase to form cyanobacteria blooms, also known as HABs. HABs can cause significant water quality issues; produce toxins that are incredibly harmful (even deadly) to humans, animals, and aquatic organisms; and negatively impact economic health, especially for communities dependent on the income of jobs and tourism generated through their local lakes.

“A property’s value near an infested lake can drop by up to $85,000, and waterside communities can lose millions of dollars in revenue from tourism, boating, fishing and other sectors,” reports Princeton Hydro President Geoff Goll, P.E.

Generally, the health of a private lake is funded and managed in isolation by the governing private lake association group. But, in order to mitigate HABs and protect the overall health of our local waterbodies, it’s important that we look beyond just the lake itself. Implementing regional/watershed-based planning is a critical step in preventing the spread of HABs and maintaining the overall health of our natural resources.

At the end of 2019, the Borough of Ringwood became the first municipality in New Jersey to take a regional approach to private lake management through a public-private partnership with four lake associations.

The Borough of Ringwood is situated in the heart of the New Jersey Highlands, is home to several public and private lakes, and provides drinking water to millions of New Jersey residents. In order to take an active role in the management of these natural resources, Ringwood hired Princeton Hydro, a leader in ecological and engineering consulting, to design a municipal-wide holistic watershed management plan that identifies and prioritizes watershed management techniques and measures that are best suited for immediate and long-term implementation.

Map showing the four private lakes involved in the Borough of Ringwood's regional holistic watershed management plan.

Funding for Ringwood’s Watershed-based Assessment is being provided by the New Jersey Highlands Council through a grant reimbursement to the Borough of Ringwood. The Highlands Council offers grant funding and assistance to support the development and implementation of a wide range of planning initiatives. Examples of the types of efforts that can be funded for municipalities and counties include:

  • Land Use and Development projects like sustainable economic development planning and green building and environmental sustainability planning;
  • Infrastructure projects like stormwater management and water use/conservation management;
  • Resource Management projects like habitat conservation, lake management and water quality monitoring; and
  • Recreation and Preservation projects like land preservation and stewardship, farmland preservation and agriculture retention, and historic preservation.

Chris Mikolajczyk, CLM, Princeton Hydro’s Aquatics Senior Project Manager and the Ringwood project’s lead designer, presented with Keri Green of the NJ Highlands Council, at a recent New Jersey Coalition of Lake Associations meeting. The duo showcased Ringwood’s unique approach, spread the word about available funding through the NJ Highlands Council, and encourage other municipalities to follow Ringwood’s lead in taking a regional approach to lake and watershed management.

Mikolajczyk said, “This regional approach to lake and watershed management is a no-brainer from a scientific, technical, and community point of view. Historically, however, municipal governments and private lake associations have rarely partnered to take such an approach. The hope is that the Borough of Ringwood efforts, funded by the New Jersey Highlands Council, will set a precedent for this logical watershed management strategy and open the door for future public-private partnerships.”

This integrated approach to watershed and lake management is an important preventative measure to improve water quality for millions of people and reduce potential future incidents of aquatic invasive species and harmful algal blooms throughout the region.

To learn more about NJ Highlands Council and available grant funding, go here.
To download a complete copy of the presentations given by Mikolajczyk and Green at the recent NJCOLA meeting, go here.
To learn more about Princeton Hydro’s pond, lake and watershed management services, go here.

 

Feasibility Study Identifies Key Opportunities for Hudson River Habitat Restoration

Hudson River Bear Mountain Bridge (Photo from Wikipedia)

The Hudson River originates at the Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondack Mountains at an elevation of 4,322 feet above sea level. The river then flows southward 315 miles to New York City and empties into the New York Harbor leading to the Atlantic Ocean. The Hudson River Valley lies almost entirely within the state of New York, except for its last 22 miles, where it serves as the boundary between New York and New Jersey.

Hudson River Basin (Image by USACE)Approximately 153 miles of the Hudson River, between the Troy Dam to the Atlantic Ocean, is an estuary. An estuary is defined by the USEPA as “a partially enclosed, coastal water body where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuaries, and their surrounding lands, are places of transition from land to sea. Although influenced by the tides, they are protected from the full force of ocean waves, winds and storms by landforms such as barrier islands or peninsulas.”

The Hudson River’s estuary encompasses regionally significant habitat for anadromous fish and globally rare tidal freshwater wetland communities and plants, and also supports significant wildlife concentrations. As a whole, the Hudson River provides a unique ecosystem with highly diverse habitats for approximately 85% of New York State’s fish and wildlife species, including over 200 fish species that rely on the Hudson River for spawning, nursery, and forage habitat.

The Hudson is an integral part of New York’s identity and plays a vital role in the lives of the people throughout the area. Long valued as a transportation corridor for the region’s agricultural and industrial goods, and heavily used by the recreation and tourism industries, the Hudson plays a major role in the local economy. It also provides drinking water for more than 100,000 people.

At the end of the American Revolution, the population in the Hudson River Valley began to grow. The introduction of railroad travel in 1851 further accelerated development in the area. Industrial buildings were erected along the river, such as brick and cement manufacturing, which was followed by residential building. Along with the aforementioned development, came the construction of approximately 1,600 dams and thousands of culverts throughout the Hudson River.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), these human activities have significantly degraded the integrity of the Hudson River ecosystem and cumulatively changed the morphology and hydrology of the river. Over time, these changes have resulted in large-scale losses of critical shallow water and intertidal wetland habitats, and fragmented and disconnected habitats for migratory and other species. Most of this loss and impact has occurred in the upper third portion of the estuary.

As part of the effort to restore the vital river ecosystem, the USACE New York District launched a Hudson River Habitat Restoration Feasibility Study, which helps to establish and evaluate baseline conditions, develop restoration goals and objectives, and identify key restoration opportunities. Princeton Hydro participated in data collection and analysis, conceptual restoration designs, and preparation of the USACE Environmental Assessment for the Hudson River Habitat Restoration Ecosystem Restoration Draft Integrated Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment.

Basic map depicting project sites (Created by Princeton Hydro)The study area includes the Hudson River Valley from the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge downstream to the Troy Lock and Dam upstream. The primary restoration objectives include restoring a mosaic of interconnected, large river habitats and restoring lost connectivity between the Hudson River and adjacent ecosystems.

A total of six sites were evaluated using topographic surveys, installation and monitoring of tide gauges, evaluation of dam and fish barrier infrastructure, and field data collection and analysis to support Evaluation of Planned Wetlands (EPW) and Habitat Suitability Indices (HSI) functional assessment models. Literature reviews were also completed for geotechnical, hazardous toxicity radioactive waste, and aquatic organism passage measures.

Multiple alternatives for each of the six sites were created in addition to the preparation of conceptual designs, quantity take-offs, and cost estimates for construction, monitoring and adaptive management, and long-term operation and maintenance activities.

Princeton Hydro also prepared an environmental assessment in accordance with NEPA standards, addressing all six sites along the Hudson River and its tributaries. This assessment served to characterize existing conditions, environmental impacts of the preferred Proposed Action and No Action Alternatives, and regional cumulative environmental impacts. Our final report was highlighted by USACE at the 2019 Planning Community of Practice (PCoP) national workshop at the Kansas City District as an example of a successfully implemented Ecosystem Restoration Planning Center of Expertise (ECO-PCX) project.

USACE’s specific interest in Hudson River restoration stems from the aforementioned dramatic losses of regional ecosystems, the national significance of those ecosystems, and the apparent and significant opportunity for measurable improvement to the degraded ecological resources in the river basin.

The feasibility study is among the first of several critical steps in restoring the Hudson River’s ecosystem function and dynamic processes, and reestablishing the attributes of a natural, functioning, and self-regulated river system. Stay tuned for more updates on the Hudson River restoration efforts.

Flipping the Script on American Environmental Thought: FREE Presentation Download

 

The Watershed Institute held its 3rd Annual New Jersey Watershed Conference, an educational event that aims to advance knowledge and communications on issues related to water quality and quantity across the state. The event included a variety of presentations from local experts on watershed management, stormwater, and problems and solutions related to the health of New Jersey’s watersheds.

During the conference, Princeton Hydro’s Marketing Coordinator Kelsey Mattison, a St. Lawrence University graduate with a degree in English and environmental studies, lead a workshop that explored binaries in environmental thought and how to break through those limiting thought processes in order to advance a more productive and shared understanding of our natural world.

The presentation, titled “Flipping the Script on American Environmental Thought,” discussed how black-and-white thought processes (a.k.a. binaries) cause us to view issues as one or the other, leaving little to no room for the possibility of blending the two.

Historically, American thought has viewed environmental issues through a binary lens: either we favor human society, or we favor the environment, and this juxtaposition has rarely allowed for integration between the two perspectives.

Take, for example, the two concepts of preservation and conservation toted by John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, respectively. Muir’s concept of preservation argued that humans should set land aside to leave untouched to preserve its natural beauty, while Pinchot’s concept of conservation advocated for a responsible use of the land’s resources. Both are forms of environmental advocacy, but neither leave much room to combine the two ideas, ultimately creating a black and white binary surrounding human responsibility to the planet. This makes it difficult to then make any compromise on issues related to managing or utilizing our natural resources.

The workshop also explored answers to the important question of: “How do we flip the script to be more inclusive?” Participants discussed ideas around utilizing Values-Based Communication in order to connect with people from different groups/with different values. A few of the communication strategies Kelsey presented, include:

  • Finding Common Ground:

    When groups are telling such different narratives, it can be hard to see that their goals might actually be completely in line. By first identifying what each group’s priorities are, we can better understand their needs in order to help fulfill them. This allows people with seemingly conflicting beliefs to work towards a common goal.

  • Seeing More than Two Sides:

    Generally, people default to thinking there are only two sides to an issue, but no conflict is ever truly just one thing or the other. Even if there are overtly two options, the issue is always more complex. When resolving conflict, it’s almost always possible to find at least one thing the two sides have in common.

Overall, Kelsey’s workshop emphasized the importance of open-mindedness and inclusion in our approach to environmental action in order to bring people together and foster real change. If you’re interested in learning more, click here for a free download of Kelsey’s full presentation.

The New Jersey Watershed Conference, of which Princeton Hydro was a sponsor and exhibitor, also included presentations on topics ranging from urban flooding to microplastics in our waterways to green infrastructure. Dr. Fred Lubnow, Princeton Hydro’s Director of Aquatic Programs, presented on the “Causes and Impacts of Harmful Algal Blooms.” To view the complete agenda, go here.

Princeton Hydro is a proud supporter of The Watershed Institute, a nonprofit organization comprised of policy advocates, scientists, land and water stewards, naturalists, and educators. Focused on the Central New Jersey area, the Watershed Institute speaks out for water and environment, protects and restores sensitive habitats, tests waterways for pollution, and inspires others to care for the natural world. For more information, or to become a member, go here.

Identifying, Understanding and Addressing Harmful Algae Blooms

Harmful Algae Bloom Visible in Owasco Lake. Photo by: Tim Schneider

Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) were in the spotlight this summer due to the severe impacts they had on lakes throughout the country. The nation-wide HABs outbreak caused beach closures, restricted access to lake usage, and wide-ranging health advisories.

What exactly are HABs? Why were they so severe this summer? Will this trend continue? Can anything be done to prevent the occurrence or mitigate the impacts?

In this blog, we provide answers to all of those questions, exploring what HABs are, why they occur, why they were particularly prevalent this summer, and what we can do to combat them.

What are HABs?

Simply put, HABs are rapid, large overgrowths of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, aren’t actually algae, they are prokaryotes, single-celled aquatic organisms that are closely related to bacteria and can photosynthesize like algae. These microorganisms are a natural part of aquatic ecosystems, but, under the right conditions (primarily heavy rains, followed by hot, sunny days), these organisms can rapidly increase to form cyanobacteria blooms, also known as HABs.

HABs can cause significant water quality issues in lakes and ponds, often forming a visible and sometimes odorous scum on the surface of the water. They can produce toxins that are incredibly harmful (even deadly) to humans, animals, and aquatic organisms. HABs also negatively impact economic health, especially for communities dependent on the income of jobs and tourism generated through their local lakes and waterways.

What causes HABs?

HABs are caused by a complex set of conditions, and many questions remain about exactly why they occur and how to predict their timing, duration, and toxicity. Primarily, HABs are caused by warmer temperatures and stormwater run-off pollutants, including fertilizers with phosphates.

NY Times article, featuring Princeton Hydro, looks at how climate change affects lakes nationwide, using NJ as an example. Photo by: Rick Loomis, NY Times.HABs are induced by an overabundance of nutrients in the water. The two most common nutrients are fixed nitrogen (nitrates and ammonia) and phosphorus. Discharges from wastewater treatment plants, runoff from agricultural operations, excessive fertilizer use in urban/suburban areas, and stormwater runoff can carry nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways and promote the growth of cyanobacteria.

Climate change is also a factor in HAB outbreaks, which typically occur when there are heavy rains followed by high temperatures and sunshine. Climate change is leading to more frequent, more intense rainstorms that drive run-off pollutants into waterways, coupled with more hot days to warm the water. These are the ideal conditions for HABs, which in recent years have appeared in more places, earlier in the summer.

With climate change and increasing nutrient pollution causing HABs to occur more often and in locations not previously affected, it’s important for us to learn as much as we can about HABs so that we can reduce their harmful effects.

What Can I Do to Prevent HABs?

Signs on the closed beach at Hopatcong State Park warn residents of the Harmful Algae Bloom at Lake Hopatcong on July 2019, in Landing, NJ. (Photo by: Danielle Parhizkaran of NorthJersey.comThe number one thing individuals can do to protect their waterbodies and prevent HABs is to reduce phosphorous use and reduce nutrient loads to waters.

According to Dr. Fred Lubnow, Director of Aquatic Programs for Princeton Hydro, “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.”

Here are a few steps you can take to improve water quality in your community lakes:

Controlling stormwater runoff is another critical factor in improving water quality and reducing HABs. There are a number of low-cost green infrastructure techniques that can be implemented on an individual and community-wide scale. You can read more about green infrastructure stormwater management techniques in our recent blog.

In a recent Op/Ed published on NJ.com, Princeton Hydro President Geoff Goll lists four things that residents, businesses, and local governments should do to prevent another HABs outbreak next summer:

  1. Improve aging “gray” infrastructure
  2. Invest in “green” stormwater infrastructure
  3. Implement regional/watershed-based planning
  4. Pass the Water Quality Protection and Jobs Creation Act

“By making the necessary investments, we can simultaneously create jobs, reduce flood impacts, improve fisheries, maintain or increase lakefront property values, improve water quality and preserve our water-based tourism. The time to act is literally now,” said Geoff. Go here, to read the full article.

HABs Management in Action through Floating Wetland Islands:

Nitrogen and phosphorus are utilized by plants, which means they uptake these nutrients to sustain growth. We see this naturally occurring in wetland ecosystems where wetlands act as a natural water filtration system and can actually thrive from nutrients flowing in from external sources.

This process is replicated in floating wetland islands (FWIs), where you typically have a constructed floating mat with vegetation planted directly into the material. The plants then grow on the island, rooting through the floating mat.

This illustration, created by Staff Scientist Ivy Babson, conveys the functionality of a Floating Wetland Island

This illustration, created by Staff Scientist Ivy Babson, conveys the functionality of a Floating Wetland Island

Not only do FWIs assimilate and remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus out of the water, they also provide habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms; help mitigate wave and wind erosion impacts; provide an aesthetic element; and can be part of a holistic lake/pond management strategy. Because of this, FWIs are being utilized to improve water quality and control HABs in lakes and ponds throughout the country. Princeton Hydro has designed and implemented numerous FWIs in waterbodies large and small. Go here to learn how they’re being used in Harveys Lake.

 

Recognizing and monitoring the changes that are taking place in our local waterways brings the problems of climate change, stormwater pollution and the resulting water quality issues closer to home, which can help raise awareness, inspire environmentally-minded action and promote positive, noticeable change.

If you spot what you believe to be a harmful algae bloom in your community lake, contact your local lake association right away. They, along with their lake management team, can assess the situation and determine what further actions need to be taken.

For more information about harmful algae blooms and water quality management, go here: http://bit.ly/pondlake.

Special thanks to Princeton Hydro Staff Scientist Ivy Babson for her contributions to this blog.

Laura Wildman Awarded for “Bringing the Presumpscot River Back to Life”

Photo provided by the Friends of the Presumpscot River

The Friends of the Presumpscot River (The Friends) Board of Trustees awarded Laura Wildman, P.E., Princeton Hydro’s New England Regional Office Director and Water Resources and Fisheries Engineer, with its “Chief Polin Award.” The award recognizes Laura for her accomplishments and efforts in bringing life back to the Presumpscot River and rivers across the nation. The award was presented at The Friends’ Three Sisters Harvest Dinner & Annual Celebration.

The Chief Polin Award recognizes those who are making significant efforts to restore fish passage, improve water quality and bring back the natural character of the Presumpscot river.During her acceptance speech, Laura thanked The Friends for its continued dedication to restoring fish passage and revitalizing the river. “I am so proud to be part of the ‘river warriors’ team,” Laura said. “Our collective efforts to protect and restore the river have resulted in invaluable benefits to fish, aquatic organisms, wildlife, and the surrounding communities.”

The award is named after local Abanaki tribe leader Chief Polin, who led the first documented dam protest in New England during the mid-1700s, advocating for fish passage, which had been compromised by the first dams built along the river. The award recognizes those who are making significant efforts to restore fish passage, improve water quality, and bring back the natural character of the Presumpscot River. Sean Mahoney from the Conservation Law Foundation also received the Chief Polin Award during the Annual Celebration.

Map provided by The Friends of the Presumpscot RiverLocated in Cumberland County, Maine, the Presumpscot is a 25.8-mile-long river and the largest freshwater input into Casco Bay. The river has long been recognized for its vast quantity of fish. According to The Friends, when Europeans first arrived, they reported that “the entire surface of the river, for a foot deep, was all fish.”

In the 1730s, however, the construction of dams halted the passage of fish up the river. As more dams sprung up in the following centuries, the ecological vitality of the river steadily declined.

For more than 250 years, people have advocated for the unobstructed passage of fish up the Presumpscot River. Over the last 50 years, the river has undergone profound transformation due to the enactment of the Clean Water Act, the removal of a few dams, and the installation of fish passages on existing dams. Fish passage at Cumberland Mills Dam, which was completed in 2013, restored critical habitat to sea run fish such as shad, American eel, and river herring, and allowed them to move upstream again.

Saccarappa Falls dam removal in actionIn July, work began to restore a large reach of the river through Westbrook, Maine. The project involves the removal of two dam spillways from the upper Saccarappa Falls and the construction of a fishway around the lower falls. The project, which was three years in the making, was finally approved to move forward once the City of Westbrook, Sappi Fine Paper, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and the nonprofits, Friends of the Presumpscot River and Conservation Law Foundation, were able to reach a ground breaking settlement. The Saccarappa Falls project is a major step in restoring the river and was a focal point of the Three Sisters Harvest Dinner, celebrating decades of effort on the parts of the Friends of the Presumpscot along with their numerous project partners, including Princeton Hydro.

About the Friends of the Presumpscot River: A nonprofit organization founded in 1992, supported primarily by membership dues and small donations. Its mission is to protect and improve the water quality, indigenous fisheries, recreational opportunities and natural character of the Presumpscot River.
Learn more: presumpscotriver.org

About Princeton Hydro: Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the removal of dozens of small and large dams along the East Coast. To learn more about our fish passage and dam removal engineering services, visit: bit.ly/DamBarrier.