Monday, November 14, 2011

Water quality protection goes underground at Barley Neck Road, Orleans

One of the first CCWRRP stormwater projects completed this year was at Barley Neck Road in Orleans. The project took only 10 days to complete.
by Chloe Wardropper, Conservation Intern, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

So far, this blog has told the story of the fish passage and salt marsh restoration components of the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project (CCWRRP), but there is also a lot of work going on to improve the quality of water that runs off of roads after rainstorms.  This water is referred to as “stormwater,” and when it is not treated, it has the potential to degrade the water quality of our saltmarshes.  

In order to improve Cape Cod aquaculture and environmental health, the CCWRRP has now completed, or will soon complete, 19 different stormwater treatment projects in ten towns across Cape Cod! 

Why is treating stormwater important? The simple answer is that Cape Cod’s economy depends on good water quality.  Shellfishing is a multi-million dollar industry on the Cape, and it is only allowed in areas of excellent water quality.  Shellfishing areas can be compromised when stormwater runoff from developed and paved areas carries contaminants such as nutrients, metals, fertilizers, and bacteria. 

In a 2006 assessment, the Division of Marine Fisheries and town officials identified over 160 stormwater discharge points into shellfishing areas on Cape Cod.  The CCWRRP prioritized 26 of these areas to install infiltration or constructed wetland treatment systems.  When completed, these new systems will protect 7,300 acres of shellfish beds from contamination.

One of the first stormwater projects completed this year was in the town of Orleans at the end of Barley Neck Road on Little Pleasant Bay.  Excellent water quality is a priority in Pleasant Bay as it supports a number of commercial aquaculture operations and many recreational shellfishers.  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Town of Orleans supervised the installation of two infiltration systems under the road to treat the stormwater from approximately 10,000 square feet of impervious runoff area.

How do these systems work? The design moves water, by a downward grade, along the side of the road to a concrete catchment basin.  Here, the larger sediment sinks to the bottom while fluids flow into two big cement infiltrators (each eight feet wide by eight feet deep) that remove bacteria and other contaminants before releasing treated water into the sandy soil below. 

As added protection, any water that is not caught in the first filter flows into a second catchment basin attached to another infiltration system.  This infiltrator provides the same treatment, but requires less than one quarter of the vertical space of the first system to clean water.  Consisting of a long plastic tube for water retention and filtration, this chamber must be shallower than the first infiltrators because it is closer to groundwater.

Construction of the Barley Neck Road project was completed in July 2011.  It took only 10 days for the contractor to prepare the site, dig holes for the catchment basins and infiltrators, install the systems, and repave the road with appropriate grading. 

Approximately 150 acres of shellfish beds impacted by runoff from Barley Neck Road are now free of stormwater contamination, according to ongoing Division of Marine Fisheries monitoring in Pleasant Bay. 

When you walk by the site, you barely know anything is there. A manhole cover is the only visible evidence of the extensive filter systems doing their important work underground. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Going with the flow at Cedar Lake

By Abigail Franklin and Chloe Wardropper
Chloe Wardropper prepares to measure stream velocity at Cedar Lake.
On rainy days, Abigail Franklin, the anadromous fish expert for the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project, and Chloe Wardropper, a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service intern, rush to North Falmouth to take advantage of raised water levels in the small stream connecting Cedar Lake with Rand’s Canal.
They’ve been tracking the stream’s flow since February 2011, taking measurements that will inform the design of a replacement fish ladder and culvert. The project will improve passage from Rand’s Canal, near Megansett Harbor, into Cedar Lake, one of the herring runs on the Buzzards Bay side of Falmouth. 
Stream flow, or discharge, is calculated by multiplying water velocity by the area through which it flows.  United States Geological Survey gauges at the Herring River in Harwich and the Quashnet River in Falmouth provide data on nearby watersheds, but since those rivers are much larger, it is difficult to directly compare them to this small stream.
The measurements collected at Cedar Lake will provide an important baseline for the fish ladder project and establish a flow monitoring protocol that can be used for other planned Cape Cod fish passage projects. 
Measurements are taken by dividing the stream into six intervals at right angles to the flow.  Using a Pygmy current meter (a spinning device that is pushed by the water) and wading rod, Abigail and Chloe determine velocity and depth for each segment, and then add them together to get the total flow. 
Since February, stream depths have ranged from 4 to 15 centimeters and discharge has varied, generally following depth, from .012 to .051 cubic meters per second. 
The shallow depth results in slightly aching backs at the end of the day, but the scenery is beautiful, and they never know what might float down the stream: Abigail’s feet recently encountered an unsuspecting muskrat!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Surveying the Holway Axe Dam at Carter Beal Park in Bourne

Dan Barnett and Abigail Franklin surveying the Holway Axe Dam in a dingy.

By Abigail Franklin, Anadromous Fish Restoration Project Manager

One of our recent field work assignments was to survey the upstream side of the Holway Axe Dam, at Carter Beal Park in the Town of Bourne.  We were gathering information for a new fish ladder that will be built at the site. 

Great Herring Pond at Carter Beal Park, Bourne.
Holway Axe Dam has two spillways, and only one of them has a fish ladder. During the Spring upstream migration, adult herring will sometimes swim up the incorrect spillway, and become stuck at the bottom of the dam.  These fish then need to be netted and dropped into the pond above.  This is stressful and time consuming for both the herring and humans involved! 

To fix this problem, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is designing a channel and fish ladder that will allow the herring to swim from the spillway with no passage, into the spillway with a fish ladder. Before plans are drawn, we have to survey the dam and determine how strong it is.  The stronger the dam – the closer we can locate the new fish ladder to it.

Nancy Sheard gets ready to set up surveying equipment.

Civil Engineering Technician Nancy Sheard arrived at the site before us, and found thousands of juvenile herring swimming in a tight circle in one of the pools of the pool and weir fish ladder.  These two-inch long fish were born in Great Herring Pond, and were taking their time swimming downstream to the ocean for the first time!

After watching the fish for a few minutes, Civil Engineer Dan Barnett and I hopped into an eight-foot long dingy, and Nancy set up the surveying equipment on the far shore.  Dan rowed transects back and forth along the dam, while I tried to hold the surveying rod in place as the wind pushed us around.  It was a hot day, but a very pleasant place to be.

Watch a video clip of the juvenile fish swimming at Carter Beal Park:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Video: Alewife in the Fast Lane

Fish passage expert Abigail Franklin was taking water level measurements at a project site recently when she heard a small splash downstream. She looked up and saw waves breaking against the stream banks. 

Abigail fumbled for her camera and pushed the video button just in time. She recorded a group of alewife swim by so quickly, they created a wake!

They were swimming upstream on their way to the spawning pond, a voyage that will be made easier when a deteriorating fish ladder is replaced.

The alewife is a species of herring that has been used as a baitfish and for human consumption.

Later they will leave the pond, swim downstream and head back out to the ocean. Hopefully they will survive another year, and come back to spawn again!

Video: An Elvers Sighting

Fish passage expert Abigail Franklin was working at a project site recently when she saw juvenile American eels swimming upstream and resting on the sandy stream bottom. This was exciting because these young eels started life about 1,000 miles away in the Sargasso Sea.

American eels are economically important along the East Coast. They are caught by fishermen and sold as food or bait. Eels help the Atlantic coast ecosystem by eating dead fish, invertebrates, carrion and insects.

Dams and other barriers have caused eel populations to decline. The Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project is working to remove these barriers.

Abigail says these "elvers" are very good at making themselves look like sticks and other stream debris. They only got her attention when they started wriggling, so look closely in this video!

These eels will make their home in the pond for years and will not return to the ocean until they are ready to spawn at the end of their lives.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The herring are here! Next year their passage will be easier.

This degraded fish ladder at Cedar Lake in Falmouth will be rebuilt in time for next year's herring migration.

By Abigail Franklin, Anadromous Fish Restoration Project Manager

The rivers have reached 50 degrees! On Cape Cod, river herring start to swim upstream to their spawning grounds when the temperature of the rivers and streams reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Migrating river herring have now been seen at all but one of the seven Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project fish passage sites. 

It’s exciting to see them after the long winter, and it’s even more exciting to know that when they arrive next year, they will discover new fish ladders and structures that will make it easier for them to swim to the ponds!

For example, this spring at the Marstons Mills River in Barnstable, the river herring are swimming through a flume that is deteriorating.  In the late 1800s the flume was constructed by citizens who wanted to help the fish bypass the cranberry bogs on their way to the spawning grounds at Middle Pond. Because of the sandy soil, the walls of the flume have a tendency to lean and fall into the stream.

Many efforts have been made over the years to repair and reconstruct the structure, and it is time to do so again.  Next year, the river herring will swim through a more structurally stable flume, and will not have to worry about the walls caving in on them!

At Cedar Lake in Falmouth, the river herring are swimming up a fish ladder that is disintegrating, and then through a sloped culvert with baffles under Bay Road. Next spring they will find a brand new ladder, and a level culvert under the road that will allow them to swim upstream faster.

And at Lower Red Brook in Bourne, river herring can only access a culvert under the railroad berm during high tides, and at low tides must wait around and avoid being eaten by big fish and birds.   Next spring, they will be able to reach the culvert during more of the tidal cycle thanks to the construction of rock weirs.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

MEET THE STAFF: Abigail Franklin, Anadromous Fish Restoration Project Manager

Abigail Franklin likes to encourage others to see a project from the river herring's point of view.

By Loryn Dion, Public Affairs Intern, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Even when Abigail Franklin was a young girl, building pretend-fish ladders out of couch cushions with her brother rather than forts like the other kids, it was already obvious what her career would be. Now working as the Anadromous Fish Restoration Project Manager with the Cape Cod Conservation District in Massachusetts, anyone can tell that Abigail is passionate about what she does.

Abigail is working on the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project (CCWRRP), a collaborative project of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Cape Cod Conservation District, and the Barnstable County Commissioners, with cooperation from other federal, state and local agencies.

The project will restore salt marshes, recover fish passage and improve water quality for shellfish beds. The plan identifies 76 sites throughout Cape Cod for possible restoration including 26 stormwater discharge sites, 26 tidally-restricted salt marshes and 24 obstructed fish passages.

As project manager, Abigail’s job involves keeping track of permits and deadlines, answering questions, and resolving issues, sometimes by just putting people in the same room together to discuss construction plans.  “I also like to encourage others to see the project from the river herring’s point of view,” says Abigail.

River herring are a source of food for commercially and recreationally important species like Atlantic Cod and Striped Bass. The CCWRRP has so many beneficial and diverse projects planned, that it’s difficult for Abigail to pick one that she’s most excited about.

“All of the projects are so different and each important in their own way. The Cedar Lake project in Falmouth will replace a deteriorating fish ladder and road culvert to maintain river herring access to spawning grounds. In contrast, at Lower Red Brook in Bourne, river herring are only able to reach a culvert during high tide, which leaves them vulnerable to predators at low tide. Weirs will be constructed to allow the fish to swim to the culvert during more of the tidal cycle,” says Abigail.

The position was Abigail’s dream job and exactly what she was qualified for with her BA in Natural Science from Hampshire College and her MS from UMass Amherst in Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation. One of her favorite parts of her job is talking with people out in the field.

 “I love being outside and speaking with natural resource managers and citizens who are enthusiastic and so proud and protective of their herring runs.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sunken Meadow salt marsh restoration, Eastham: construction is complete!

An excavator removes the berm at Sunken Meadow.

by Martha Rheinhardt, Coastal Wetland Restoration Project Manager, Cape Cod Conservation District
Removal of the 610-foot long earthen berm at Sunken Meadow in Eastham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod has been completed! This berm had separated two salt marshes for over 100 years.  The Eastham Department of Public Works and the Natural Resources Department teamed up to send out a well-organized crew for the removal of the berm, removal of an old, under-sized culvert and re-building of the creek bank. Despite the cold and wind, and occasional snowfall, the crew worked flawlessly. 
The excavator and “The Crawler,” a tracked carrier, were a particularly effective team. Not a motion was lost by the excavator operator, and The Crawler was able to travel back and forth along the berm without having to make any turns, thanks to its swiveling bucket.
In less than a week’s time, the berm had been removed, the area re-graded back to proper marsh elevations, and water was flowing un-impeded through the creek and up and over the new marsh surface on the spring tide. A pair of Canada geese even came by for a swim.
The new creek bank and adjacent areas will be planted this spring. The new surface of the salt marsh is expected to re-vegetate quickly on its own. The inundation of salt water to the back marsh should also help to beat back the Phragmites that has invaded the area.
The Association to Preserve Cape Cod, working together with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, the Cape Cod Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, will be monitoring the site to determine changes to vegetation and salinity.
This work finished well ahead of schedule thanks to the efforts of many people, including Neil Andres, Eastham DPW director; Henry Lind of the Eastham Conservation Trust; Amy Usowski, the Town of Eastham Conservation Agent; the private landowners who own the land containing the culvert and the berm and where most of the work was staged; and many others. It was a wonderfully successful team effort!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

MEET THE STAFF: Martha Rheinhardt, Coastal Wetland Restoration Project Manager

Martha Rheinhardt loves being in the field.

by Loryn Dion, Public Affairs Intern, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Martha Craig Rheinhardt feels energized knowing that she is able to go to work doing something that she loves. A long-time resident of Cape Cod, Martha is currently working as the Coastal Wetland Restoration Project Manager with the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project, a collaborative project of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Cape Cod Conservation District, and the Barnstable County Commissioners, with cooperation from other federal, state and local agencies.
The project will restore salt marshes, recover fish passage and improve water quality for shellfish beds. The plan identifies 76 sites throughout Cape Cod for possible restoration including 26 stormwater discharge sites, 26 tidally-restricted salt marshes and 24 obstructed fish passages.
Martha is in charge of managing all salt marsh restoration projects. Her responsibilities include coordinating among all of the projects’ partners and sponsoring agencies, helping the projects stay on schedule and paying close attention to details to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks. “This makes it easier to avoid potential problems before they happen,” says Martha.
Martha describes her work as her “perfect job.” She was working on the Cape as a wetland consultant and had heard a lot about the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project. She knew wanted to help in some way. “I saw the job posting last summer and had multiple people forward me the ad, encouraging me to apply,” says Martha, adding that her work on the project is something she loves to do and it is very rewarding to her.
“When I was younger, growing up, in part, on the Cape, my parents and grandparents taught me to love and respect the water. After finishing graduate school in Virginia, I knew I wanted to come back to the Cape,” says Martha, who received her BA in Biology from Smith College before attending the Virginia Institute of Marine Science/College of William and Mary to achieve her MS in Marine Science with a concentration in Wetland Ecology and Coastal Resource Management.
The CCWRRP wrapped up its first project in early March, where the Town of Eastham removed an earthen berm and a culvert from the Sunken Meadow Marsh, part of which is a former cranberry bog, in Eastham, Mass. Martha was there to witness the results. “I got to see the tide flow to the new marsh over the area where the earthen berm used to be located. The tide was really high that day, so it was amazing to see,” says Martha.
Martha enjoys working on the project with people who share the same love for restoration and the Cape that she does. She also likes working with the public and seeing the positive impact of her work on the environment. “I just love being in the field.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

About the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project

Barnstable County, Massachusetts -- also known as Cape Cod -- is a coastal area where some of the sensitive ecosystems have been compromised by development. Water quality is a major concern, particularly as it affects salt marshes, shellfish beds and herring runs.

Stormwater runoff is a significant source of pollution in coastal areas. Some shellfish beds on the Cape are often closed for extensive periods during the year because of poor water quality due to stormwater runoff.  Maintaining good water quality through improved stormwater management near the many approved, open shellfish beds found throughout Cape is a priority.

Salt marsh degradation and barriers that interfere with the migration of fish are also significant concerns which the Cape Cod Resources Restoration Project seeks to address.

Federal, state and local agencies have partnered to identify these problems and formulate solutions. The costs and benefits of various alternatives have been evaluated and sponsors' decisions are contained in the watershed plan. The plan identifies 76 sites throughout Cape Cod for possible restoration including:
·         26 stormwater discharge sites
·         26 tidally-restricted salt marshes
·         24 obstructed fish passages.
The watershed plan describes the work to be done, the responsibilities of each agency, financing arrangements and maintenance provisions. The estimated total cost of the project is nearly $30 million, of which $23 million would be provided by the federal government and the remainder through non-federal sources.

The project represents a partnership of federal, state and local agencies, as well as all 15 Barnstable County towns. Project sponsors are the Barnstable County Commissioners, Cape Cod Conservation District, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, all 15 Cape Cod towns, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Cooperating agencies include: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, Massachusetts Division of Coastal Zone Management, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Massachusetts Highway Department, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the town boards of health, natural resource departments, conservation commissions, shellfish wardens and harbormasters.