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

Engineering Assessment of West Point’s Lower Cragston Dam

Highland Falls, New York, which is 40 miles north of Manhattan, stretches along the Hudson River and is populated by many lakes and ponds, including the Cragston Lakes (a.k.a. Lower Cragston). For the community’s 4,000 residents, living in an area where water is abundant has many benefits, but the benefits are not without flood risk.

The 9-acre Lower Cragston Lake, the second largest lake in the Highland Falls area,   contains the Lower Cragston Dam, which is owned by the United States Military Academy at West Point and managed through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District (USACE NYD). According to the Office of the New York State Comptroller, Lower Cragston Dam is classified as a “High Hazard” dam. The dam is approximately 10 feet high and 210 feet long, and consists of an earthen embankment with a concrete core wall, a concrete ogee spillway, and a low level outlet.

In order to ensure safety to the surrounding community and mitigate any potential flood risk associated with the dam’s operations, Princeton Hydro was contracted by the USACE NYD to perform an Engineering Assessment for Lower Cragston Dam. Engineering Assessments and periodic safety inspections are intended to provide an independent review of an existing dam structure to ensure that all components are functioning properly and in compliance with current dam safety regulations.

Princeton Hydro utilized a multidisciplinary approach to perform the Lower Cragston Dam Engineering Assessment, which consisted of:

  • Document Review: In order to understand the site and to develop a proper drilling scope and methodology, our team conducted a thorough review of existing documentation, including historic engineering plans, dam inspection reports, and an Emergency Action Plan.
  • Geotechnical and Geophysical Investigation and Reporting: This is one of the most significant aspects of a dam safety evaluation and is often the most efficient means of obtaining critical subsurface information. The information obtained from these field studies is used to devise safety improvements if determined to be necessary.
  • Bathymetric and Topographic Survey: The bathymetric survey entails the accurate mapping of water depths and the quantification of the amount of accumulated, unconsolidated sediment. The topographic survey looks at the height, depth, size, and location of the dam and surrounding area.
  • Hydrologic & Hydraulic Analysis: This analysis looks at the watershed and spillway structure related to the extent of potential flooding from storm recurrence intervals within the study area. The data helps to evaluate measures that can reduce and mitigate existing and anticipated flood risk.
  • Structural Analysis: Our team utilized various methods, to assess the structural integrity of the dam and to evaluate the internal stresses and stability under usual, unusual, and extreme loading combinations.
  • Seepage & Stability Analysis: Seepage through an earthen dam generally correlates with the reservoir water level of the dam. A careful analysis helps to detect any abnormal seepage issues and associated consequences.
  • Dam Break Analysis: This type of analysis is used to estimate the potential hazards associated with a failure of the dam structure and features.

The geotechnical investigation for the Lower Cragston Dam Engineering Assessment involved performing soil borings and rock coring within the dam embankment, for which Princeton Hydro developed a Drilling Program Plan (DPP) to ensure the activities were performed successfully and safely. The DPP, which also required our team to have a comprehensive understanding of bedrock and surficial geologic formations in the area, was ultimately approved by the USACE Dam Safety Officer and successfully executed in the field. The collected samples were tested at Princeton Hydro’s AASHTO accredited and USACE validated soil laboratory.

Ultimately, the geotechnical investigation and subsequent soil analysis were used to inform the slope stability and seepage analysis. The geotechnical analyses, hydrologic & hydraulic study, structural inspection, bathymetry, and dam break analysis were used to provide USACE and West Point with recommendations for repair options, replacement options, and decommissioning options for the dam.

Engineering Assessments are vital to the longevity of dams and the safety of the communities they protect. By providing detailed analysis, effective repair, and management programs can be designed and implemented efficiently. This helps to ensure dam systems are providing the level of protection they were designed to deliver.

Princeton Hydro has designed, permitted, and overseen the reconstruction, repair, and removal of dozens of small and large dams. Our Geoscience and Water Resources Engineering teams perform dam inspections and conduct dam feasibility studies throughout the Northeast. For more info, visit: bit.ly/PHEngineering.

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.