Tag Archives: damage

What is the Price Tag for Nature’s Defenses?

Carl Zimmer writes recently in the New York Times that levees are not the only things that protect coasts from storm damage.  “Nature offers protection, too” he says.  “Coastal marshes absorb wind energy and waves of storms, weakening their impact farther inland.”  These coastal ecosystems and their services provide significant value he notes, shielding us from storms, reducing soil erosion, soaking up greenhouse gases and more.  In 1997 these ecosystems services were valued by a team of scientists at twice the gross national product of every country on Earth or in today’s dollars approximately $49 trillion. Since 1997 the release of hundreds of new studies, and the increased damage to these ecosystems across the world, have caused the team to reevaluate their estimate of these services, concluding that their earlier number was far too low.  >Read more via http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/05/science/earth/putting-a-price-tag-on-natures-defenses.html?hp

Flood Alleviation – Unpaid Engineers to Restore Floodplains

Following major floods in January 2014 Marina Pacheco, the chief executive of the UK Mammal Society, recommended that the UK Government promote beaver reintroductions as a means of reducing flood risk in the future.

“Restoring the beaver to Britain’s rivers would bring huge benefits in terms of flood alleviation. These unpaid river engineers would quickly re-establish more natural systems that retain water behind multiple small dams across tributaries and side-streams. As a consequence the severity of flooding further downstream would be greatly reduced, at no cost to the taxpayer,” wrote Pacheco.

This regulation in river flow may also help reduce flooding and bankside erosion downstream according to the biofresh blog http://biofreshblog.com/2014/04/18/beavers-ecological-stress-and-river-restoration/

Yvon Chouinard: Tear Down ‘Deadbeat’ Dams

A recent New York Times Opinion piece by Yvon Chouinard titled “Tear Down ‘Deadbeat’ Dams,” rightly questions the values and highlights the environmental risks associated with dams, underlining that the benefits “for water use, flood control and electricity – can now be met more effectively without continuing to choke entire watersheds.”

He goes on to say that: “Of the more than 80,000 dams listed by the federal government, more than 26,000 pose high or significant safety hazards. Many no longer serve any real purpose.” For Chouinard, an adventurer and founder of Patagonia, this has long been an important issue.  “I’ve been working to take down dams for most of my life.  The idea, once considered crazy, is gaining momentum.”  >Read On

 

“Fields and Streams” by Rebecca Lave – High Stakes in the Rosgen Wars

fields and streamsJust beneath the surface of the river restoration industry is an undercurrent of controversy strong enough to create two distinctly-opposed camps. Dubbed the “Rosgen Wars ” during the mid-1990s, this 20-year battle of ideas was named for its protagonist, Colorado hydrologist Dave Rosgen, and pits Rosgen and his legion of followers against some of the most highly-respected scientific minds in the field.

A new book by Indiana University geologist and author Rebecca Lave dissects the controversy and what it means for the political economy of scientific fields. In “Fields and Streams: Stream Restoration, Neoliberalism and the Future of Environmental Science,” Lave asks several key questions that apply to the privatization and commercialization of knowledge, most importantly, “What (and who) confers authority within scientific fields?”

In the mid-1990’s Rosgen developed his formula-based Natural Channel Design (NCD) for stream and river restoration, and created a series of short-courses to teach the method to mostly young and mid-level stream restoration practitioners. Ranged against Rosgen and NCD are what Lave calls “the guardians of scientific legitimacy:” top level academic and agency scientists who denounce Rosgen.

Lave describes a 2003 meeting of 35 of “the most respected academics, agency staff, and consultants in stream restoration in the U.S.” Rosgen was included in the meeting. “Despite the fact that he has little formal training in restoration science, Rosgen is the primary educator of restoration practitioners in the U.S. and training in his approach is [often] considered preferable to a PhD,” writes Lave.

In fact, Rosgen’s NCD approach has been adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as dozens of state resource agencies, and it is NCD, not a university-produced, approved scientific approach, that is often required by regulatory agencies issuing stream permits. The main criticisms of NCD short-course training are that the courses and method are inadequate preparation for anyone to practice the complex science of stream restoration. In addition, when applied by inexperienced practitioners, the method may be applied inappropriately when a stream doesn’t “fit” into the NCD formula.

Matt Kondolf, a professor of geomorphology at University of California –  Berkeley, one of the critics, arrived late to that 2003 meeting, and “proceeded to let loose a shotgun blast of critique that sounded very loud in such a small room,” writes Lave. “It was, to put it mildly, uncomfortable.” In the decade since the meeting, despite criticism from top researchers, Rosgen hasn’t lost his swagger.

How is it that, despite the vocal opposition of experts “bearing academic sanctification in the form of prestigious degrees, job and publications,” arguing against the NCD approach in print, at conferences, and in short courses, NCD’s popularity has remained virtually unaffected?  Lave quoted one federal agency scientist as saying, “What I don’t understand is without any…real training or background or anything else, how does he get written into the regulations?”

In “Fields and Streams” Lave reveals that Rosgen’s NCD approach filled a niche at a time when there was rising interest in river restoration due to push-back against a utilitarian focus on waterways.  In the absence of a comprehensive design manual, certification program, or university course of study, Rosgen stepped in with NCD short courses that provided a unified, subjective structure for the stream restoration field, a common language with which to simplify and communicate complex ideas, and provided apparently credible educational credentials to create the perception of competence.

With a high demand for stream restoration professionals, agencies and others soon looked to Rosgen trainees as the standard. Then agencies and consulting firms began to require Rosgen training. Effective opposition proved too difficult for a disjointed, geographically scattered scientific community to make a cohesive argument against Rosgen with only the occasional paper or commentary here or there. But as failed projects begin to emerge, the opposition is beginning to gel. Another of the guardians, Martin Doyle, a professor of River Science and Policy at Duke University, was quoted in Fields and Streams as saying, “It seems like there’s a life cycle:  love Rosgen, get over-enamored with him, start to see some failures and shortcomings of the approach, and then start to do other things.”

Although stream restoration in the U.S. costs more than $1 billion annually, stream and river restoration and ecosystem services have traditionally been undervalued because most people in the U.S. are still able to open a tap and have all the clean water they want. However, the stakes are high enough to make sure money allocated to stream restoration is well-spent, as expensive project failures tend to dampen enthusiasm for future projects.

While Lave’s interest lies in the broader questions of how scientific knowledge is derived, disseminated, and accepted, at risk in the Rosgen Wars may be the legitimacy of an entire field of practice, and continued enthusiasm for restoring the freshwater resources we all share.

Order the Book > Fields and Streams: Stream Restoration, Neoliberalism and the Future of Environmental Science

EPA Survey: Three-Quarters of Our Nation’s Rivers Need Our Help

EPA graphicThis week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the results of a comprehensive survey looking at the health of thousands of stream and river miles across the country, finding that 55 percent are classified as poor, and another 23 percent in fair condition for aquatic life.

In certain regions, like the Coastal Plains and Temperate Plains, only 12 and 15 percent of streams respectively as found to be in good biological health. The National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA) 2008-2009 Draft Report is part of EPA’s expanded effort to monitor waterways in the U.S. and gather scientific data on the condition of the nation’s water resources.

While the EPA is doing an important job, it has taken five years to compile and disseminate the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment data. During that time, private landowners and developers have led the effort to restore and protect thousands of miles of our nation’s waterways. With the emergence of private ecosystem markets, improvements in conservation incentives, and the advent of low-cost, green restoration, many opportunities for private owners and businesses have developed since 2008. Private industry and private landholders hold the capability and the capacity to improve the quality and quantity of our nation’s freshwater resources.

Public comment is being taken on the National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA) 2008-2009 Draft Report (PDF). Comments must be emailed to nrsa-hq@epa.gov by 11:59 p.m. May 9, 2013. A fact sheet is available for a summary of the findings.

You can also register for a free webcast on the findings of the NRSA 2008-2009 on April 3, 2013 from 1-3 p.m. EDT.  Read more: http://water.epa.gov/type/rsl/monitoring/riverssurvey/index.cfm

Download the full EPA Survey: http://water.epa.gov/type/rsl/monitoring/riverssurvey/upload/NRSA0809_Report_Final_508Compliant_130228.pdf

 

Researcher: Stream Repairs in Vermont post-Irene “Ad-Hoc and Willy-Nilly”

For a stream scientist Tropical Storm Irene, which dumped loads of rain on Northeast, provided what one researcher calls a “grand experiment” — the opportunity to investigate what happens when a stream system faces a major disturbance.
In Vermont, where Dartmouth College scientists are studying the aftermath, the storm knocked out hundreds of roads and bridges in the state, damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes and left some towns stranded. Flooding moved whole sections of rivers and streams, gouging out roads and farm fields. In some cases, huge piles of gravel were deposited in other locations.
“Irene was a wakeup call,” said Dartmouth geography professor Frank Magiligan.  Magiligan and others are assessing streams in order to pinpoint potential trouble spots that can aid scientifically-informed planning decisions.  But recovery and repair efforts are concerning to some scientists, who say efforts to “repair and restore” streams with bulldozers and other heavy equipment actually “did more damage that the storm.”

Read more:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/14/tropical-storm-irene-damage-vermont-dartmouth_n_2471501.html

 

 

NWF Offers 10 Important Tips for Working with Nature to Keep Us Safe

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) ran a great article by Joshua Saks identifying “Five Actions to Protect People, Property and Wildlife from Storm and Flood Damages” http://blog.nwf.org/2012/11/post-sandy-working-with-nature-to-keep-us-safe/ and “Five Actions that Put People, Property and Wildlife at Risk from Storm and Flood Damages.” http://blog.nwf.org/2012/11/post-sandy-working-with-nature-to-keep-us-safe/

In the top five of each list is the health of wetlands and riparian areas.  Healthy wetlands act as a buffer to slow, filter and absorb flood waters.

“Protect Our Natural Defenses:
Natural features like wetlands reduce storm intensity and protect nearby properties from flooding. In fact, a single acre of wetland can store 1–1.5 million gallons of flood water. We must capitalize on these benefits and ensure that government helps protect these beneficial and cost-effective flood control features. The Obama Administration took several new steps to meet this goal. It has created new guidance and intends to pursue rulemaking to reinstate crucial Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and streams, and is also poised to release new water resources planning guidelines.”

With regard to actions that put people, property and wildlife at risk is the use of hard materials, like rock and concrete, in the place of natural materials for wetland and riparian stabilization and restoration.

“[Don’t] Build with Concrete instead of Mud and Grass:
The WRDA 2007 national water policy proposed to “protect the environment” by “protecting and restoring the functions of natural systems and mitigating any unavoidable damage to natural systems,” and by “seeking to avoid the unwise use of floodplains.” The Corps is ignoring these requirements by continuing to promote environmentally destructive and costly structural projects even where less costly and environmentally protective nonstructural and restoration measures would provide better solutions. We need a major change of course to stop building structures that protect those directly behind them and exacerbate downstream flooding and instead use natural, open floodplains to allow rivers room to expand and cover their banks without impacting property.”

Read more: http://blog.nwf.org/2012/11/post-sandy-working-with-nature-to-keep-us-safe/

 

Potomac River Tops the Most Endangered River List – All Rivers Need Protection

The non-profit advocacy group American Rivers is naming the Potomac the nation’s most endangered river, saying it is threatened by nutrient and sediment pollution that lowers the quality of drinking water and kills marine life.

The group’s annual report titled, “America’s Most Endangered Rivers,” notes what local friends of the Potomac have said for years: that urban development is funneling tons of polluted rainwater to the river; that chemical fertilizer and manure from farms make matters worse; and that wastewater overflowing from sewers, along with pharmaceuticals flushed down toilets, contribute to dead zones in which marine life dies and might cause fish to switch sexes. Some male fish in the river mysteriously have eggs.

The Potomac River, a large Chesapeake Bay tributary, supplanted another bay tributary (the Susquehanna River) as the Nation’s most endangered river.  How does a river that was ranked first last year, now fall off the list?  River restoration cannot be measured in a year, so it’s not that the Susquehanna is now fully restored. Heightening public awareness about the plight of all of our nation’s rivers is crucial, and the annual list is an effective marketing tool.

This year the Clean Water Act turns 40, and even in the face of severe threats to our water resources, Congress continues its attempts to roll back clean water regulations. Read more and find links about the rankings and the report:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/potomac-river-threatened-by-pollution-congress-new-report-says/2012/05/14/gIQAxl89PU_story.html

To learn more about American Rivers: http://www.amrivers.org/

Author Doug Pickford of Trout Headwaters, Inc. (THI), an environmental planner with 20 years of experience in the Chesapeake Bay area, follows events in the bay watershed as the tide turns from voluntary to mandatory for bay cleanup regulations and protections.   Doug’s blog series for THI will document what is likely the largest and most significant watershed clean up effort in the history of the U.S., and offer his insights into some practical ways to assist the health of this magnificent natural resource

Livestock Impacts on Riparian Areas Cannot Be Ignored

Overgrazing of riparian areas by livestock is one of the most common impacts THI sees when conducting stream assessments on rural lands. Depending upon the length and severity of improper livestock access, overgrazing in riparian areas cause a decrease in woody vegetation, an increase in streambank erosion and noxious weed colonization , and an overall decrease in water quality and habitat values for fish and wildlife.

Because it is such a common problem, we read with the interest as the Washington Post recently reported that an environmental group has accused the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of neglecting science in favor of politics when it comes to grazing on public lands. The agency has been conducting ecological studies covering millions of acres and a variety of landscapes across the West, but has been accused by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility of ignoring the impact livestock grazing has on Western public lands out of fear of backlash from the livestock industry.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/environment/environmental-group-blm-succumbed-to-politics-by-ignoring-grazing-effects-in-ecological-study/2011/11/30/gIQAfC0mDO_story.html

 

Expanding Urban Floodplains – The Story of Cameron Run

Impervious surfaces.  These are two words that most folks in their lifetime will never utter together, unless, of course, you happen to live in an urban flood plain. 

A little over 160 homeowners who live adjacent to Cameron Run in Fairfax, Virginia have become quite familiar with the concepts of imperviousness, and what it means when a significant rain event occurs.  Within the last five years, these homeowners have seen their homes repeatedly inundated by the floodwaters of Cameron Run, events that in the past would have been classified as “100- year floods.”

The Cameron Run watershed, within a stone’s throw of downtown Washington, D.C., was once comprised of forest, meadows and farms.  Seventy years ago a development of modest, single-family homes were constructed in the Huntington Community.  At the time, Cameron Run was a mostly bucolic stream that had a history of being a navigable waterway, and home to one of Alexandria’s largest mills.  The first building boom to affect the waterway actually happened shortly after the Civil War, at which time sedimentation slowly made Cameron Run non-navigable.  The mills closed and much of the adjacent lands were transformed into rail yards and industrial complexes. 

Around 1940, when the Huntington Community was developed, Alexandria experienced a rapid wave of development that continued into the early 1990s.  High rise apartments, office buildings, retail shopping centers, and residential communities were built throughout the watershed.  And thus, impervious surfaces – asphalt roadways, parking lots, rooftops, etc. – replaced rain-absorbing forests, meadows and farms.  The runoff from these impervious surfaces was directed to concrete storm sewers that emptied into Cameron Run.  As a result, the stream was the immediate victim of this development; the adjacent landowners were the unsuspecting future victims.

Siltation from development, and then rerouting of the channel due to the construction of the Capital Beltway (I-495), altered the flows of Cameron Run dramatically.  The floodplain of Cameron Run moved ever so precipitously towards the Huntington community.  Homes that were once simply near to Cameron Run, were now solidly within it’s floodplain.  Since the late 1960s the results have been devastating, and the community, Fairfax County, and the federal government are struggling to protect this modest community from the ravages of increasingly severe flooding.  As rain events seem to be more severe and more frequent, possibly a result of climate change, the adjacent landowners are now grappling with ever-changing floodplain boundaries. 

The solutions to this phenomenon that is playing out in many urban areas are complex.  But as so well illustrated in the case of Cameron Run, proper restoration and protection of our nation’s floodplains should be of the highest priority as we continue to develop rural and suburban areas.
 
To read more about the issues associated with Cameron Run, click here: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/fairfax-county-flood-victims-at-a-crossroads/2011/09/21/gIQAbc5BDL_story.html

Author Doug Pickford of Trout Headwaters, Inc. (THI), an environmental planner with 20 years of experience in the Chesapeake Bay area, follows events in the bay watershed as the tide turns from voluntary to mandatory for bay cleanup regulations and protections.   Doug’s blog series for THI will document what is likely the largest and most significant watershed clean up effort in the history of the U.S., and offer his insights into some practical ways to assist the health of this magnificent natural resource