12 May 2014
CTDEEP Stream Restoration Efforts in Eastern CT
Brian Murphy, of the CTDEEP came to our class to talk about his stream restoration efforts in Connecticut. Stream restoration seems to have mainly focused on stopping pollution, but Brian explained that there is a lot more to it than that. He explained that there are many things that can cause degradation to a stream or lake, and that a few changes can make a big impact on the diversity and overall health of our water courseways.
Brian explained to us that a lot of times, the major problem with a stream is related to human impact. This ranges from building bridges over streams, to actually burying the stream underground (yes, burying a stream is bad). Brian mainly works to restore streams to their natural state, so that the habitat can be suitable once again for the vast array of organisms that we find here in Connecticut. Humans often impact streams by forcing them into concrete channels or through tunnels, damns, and culverts. Even building a bridge over a waterway can render the waters uninhabitable for some species.
One example that was shown to the class was getting rid of damns. Damns cause the quality of water to change because they cause ponding. A pond is basically a large heat sink for water, and it can raise the temperature of the waters downstream. Another reason that damns are bad is that they cause sediments to collect in places that they normally wouldn’t have otherwise. Finally, damns are like road blocks for fish, causing them to be cut off from any waterways that are on the other side of the damn. One way that Brian has worked to fix damns is that he has created passageways around the damns that allow fish to gain access to once blocked off areas. Diverting the water around a damn may seem like it defeats the purpose of having the damn in the first place, however the diversions are well planned with this in mind. In fact, a lot of the damns in Connecticut are very old and have no useful function anyway. To that end, the damns are designed with specific parameters, as to achieve specific results. If the goal is to bypass a damn so that the waters are no longer being restricted, this can be done, but if the goal is simply to provide fish and organisms access to more waterways, and to not impede on the ability for the damn to do its job, then this can be done as well.
Similarly, bridges tunnels and culverts can also have the same effect as previously mentioned. Brian explained that often we see tunnels in Connecticut that at either, or both ends do not allow fish to pass through. We could be talking about a ten foot long pipe going under a road, and if at one end there is a ‘waterfall’ only a couple of inches high then fish will be cut off from the rest of the watercourse. In such cases, a small ramp can be made at the entrance and exit to these structures to allow fish to have enough water to swim through the pipe itself. The flow may have to also be slowed down, because at any point that water is forced into a smaller ‘window’, the velocities will increase as a result. This is also the case for bridges; especially ones that have the typical Y shape at each end, funneling the water into a smaller area. Luckily, there are now guidelines that state the specific parameters and guidelines that towns and municipalities can follow to ensure that their bridges will avoid disturbing the waterways too much. Even so, Brian said that his team often finds new construction that is causing this type of a disturbance from time to time.
Another method of restoring waterways is to slow the flows down. Due to the fact that much of our State has become developed, we have greatly increased the amount of stormwater runoff that reaches our rivers and streams, rather than infiltrating into the ground. If the flow of a river gets to be too much, then it will erode the banks, and start to flatten out. This isn’t really healthy for a stream or river because at the dryer points in the year the river or stream may run dry, while in the wet season it may flood and cause the water to become filled with sediments from the banks. Neither of these conditions are good for fish, or insects for that matter. In the case such as this, we are not really trying to restore the river to its natural condition, because that would mean we would have to eliminate the cause which is increased stormwater runoff (an entirely separate issue which is also being taken into consideration more and more these days). The real effect here is that we are practicing habitat enhancement. One way that this can be done is to slow down the increased flow velocities by placing objects into the river, like trees, cobbles and boulders.
While this all may just seem like throwing a few well placed tree limbs into a river, or digging a few trenches here and there, don’t be mistaken; these projects are well thought out and engineered to achieve specific results. The time and planning that go into developing these types of projects is astounding. Literally tens of thousands of dollars go into these projects, so that in the end the outcome is sure to be a lasting positive impact. This type of commitment to restoring our Environment in Connecticut is good to see, because if it weren’t for projects like these it may not be long before there weren’t any native fish left in our State. One thing that I admired about Brian was that he told us that at the beginning of the year he starts with zero dollars in his budget, and he has to utilize all of the resources he can in order to accomplish his mission. Sometimes the money comes from grants, while other times it comes from donations, or even from the local area where the project is occurring. I think that its great that we have such devoted, determined people working hard to ensure that the quality of our waters in Connecticut are better tomorrow than they are today.
Pictures; "Blackledge River Restoration Project", CTDEEP Website, Pictures taken September 2004, web accessed Monday, May 12, 2014. Pictures are before and after photos of a projet that Brian Murphy was the project manager for. http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/fishing/restoration/blackledge.pdf