rivers

Bridge soars over restored Maine river

By Amy Miller

I was driving south on Maine’s coast checking out Down East’s picturesque seaside towns when a bridge appeared through the fog, quite like Oz on the horizon. This was not the covered bridge of a quaint New England town, nor the familiar antiquated railroad bridge. This was a looming modern

The observatory of the Penobscott Narrows Bridge can be reached through the Fort Knox Historic Site.

The observatory of the Penobscott Narrows Bridge can be reached through the Fort Knox Historic Site.

structure more reminiscent of the Zakim Bridge into Boston. The closer we got the more I wondered at the size and stark beauty of this structure.

As it turns out, my husband and I were heading toward the 2,120-foot long Penobscot Narrows Bridge, and for good reason it conjured the Zakim. This 10-year-old bridge is one of only three of its kind in the world: constructed with a cradle system that carries the strands within the stays from bridge deck to bridge deck. The other two bridges of this kind are the Zakim and the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway in Toledo, Ohio.

Towering 420 feet over the town of Bucksport, the bridge’s public observation tower is also the only public bridge observatory in the country and one of four in the world (the others are in China, Slovakia and Thailand). The tallest of the four, it is reached by the fastest elevator in northern New England and gives you 360-degree views of Maine’s coastline, islands and lots of hills and mountains.

But just as impressive as these views is the far less visible but no less superlative accomplishments flowing below the span. The 109-mile Penobscot River tells the story of America’s environmental tragedies, as well as the equally compelling stories of how health and beauty can be restored to our waterways.

The restoration of the Penobscot involved an unprecedented effort to remove two dams and build a state-of-the-art fish bypass around a third. In addition to the Howland Dam bypass, the Milford Dam has a state-of-the-art fish lift installed as part of the restoration project.

A bypass was created for fish around the Howland Dam.

A bypass was created for fish around the Howland Dam.

As a result, hundreds of miles of habitat along the Penobscot and its tributaries have been restored, opening the way for sea-run fish, helping the ecology as well as the communities along the river.

In 1999 when Pennsylvania Power and Light purchased a series of dams in Maine, the company approached the Penobscot Indian Nation and several conservation organizations with the idea of working together to relicense the dams. Four years later the company announced it would remove dams along the lower part of the river while keeping hydropower upriver.

The non-profit Penobscot River Restoration Trust was formed, including the Penobscot Indian Nation and six environmental groups — American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, who worked with a variety of state and federal agencies, including EPA, on the restoration project.

The Trust in 2010 purchased the Veazie, Great Works, and Howland dams. The first two were removed and a bypass was created around the Howland Dam in 2015 marking the end of this model restoration program.

Before the 1830s, there were no dams on the Penobscot and Atlantic salmon ran upstream in schools numbering 50,000 or more. Shad and alewives migrated 100 miles upriver. Twenty-pound striped bass and Atlantic sturgeon also swam into the river.

Since the restoration, fish have retraced those routes. The salmon run today is considerably smaller than it had been, but still qualifies as the country’s largest Atlantic salmon run. And the population is likely to grow. As this happens, other wildlife that feeds on migrating fish will also do better.

When the restoration is over, 11 species of sea-run fish will have renewed access to habitat that runs from Maine’s high point on Katahdin down to the bay near the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, though not all the species may make it to Katahdin.

The Penobscot Indians fished for American shad as long as 8,000 years ago and sturgeon 3,000 years ago. The logging, dams, and industry along the river put thousands of years of activity to a stop by the 1950s.

Only a generation ago this river was regarded as one of American’s most endangered. It is now considered one of America’s most significant river-restoration efforts.

As you stand in the observatory, turning to look out in 360 degrees, remember to look down at the Penobscot. Sometimes the biggest changes lurk beneath the surface.

http://maine.gov/mdot/pnbo/

http://bangordailynews.com/2016/06/14/outdoors/hundreds-celebrate-completion-of-penobscot-restoration-project/

http://www.penobscotriver.org/

Amy Miller is in the public affairs office of EPA’s New England office.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Saving Endangered Mussels in Missouri’s Big River

By Cody McLarty

When you want to spend a relaxing day outdoors in the Heartland, few places are more peaceful than Rockford Beach Park, just northwest of House Springs in east central Missouri. A low head dam, built in the late 1890s to power the now nonexistent Rockford/Bonacker Mill, still stretches partway across the Big River. This aging dam creates a tranquil waterfall that has enticed patrons of the Jefferson County Parks system for decades.

Photo of old Rockford/Bonacker Mill, near present location of Rockford Beach Park.

Photo of old Rockford/Bonacker Mill, near present location of Rockford Beach Park. (Courtesy of Jefferson County, Mo. Library, Northwest Branch, Special Collections)

Other patrons of the Big River also enjoy the benefits provided by the Rockford Beach dam: a vast, diverse community of freshwater mussels. Yet, unbeknownst to many, just below the babbling waters of the Big River, these abundant mussel species are becoming more endangered every day.

A visual inspection of the dam conducted by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) in January 2015 found that it had experienced heavy deterioration and was in a state of partial failure. Sections of the stone had washed away, leaving voids beneath the surficial concrete shell. Moreover, MDNR noted that if no action was taken, the dam would eventually experience a total breach.

EPA was placed in charge of this project because if the dam were to fail completely, it would result in the release of stored sediment behind the dam, which is contaminated with mining-related metals, and just 200 yards downstream from the Rockford Beach dam are three federally-listed, endangered mussel beds.

Eastern portion of Rockford Beach dam

Eastern portion of Rockford Beach dam

I’m a remedial project manager in the Special Emphasis branch of the Superfund program at EPA Region 7, and was assigned to the Rockford Beach dam project in September 2015. I had been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on several other projects through interagency agreements, so I was familiar with the process and had pre-established contacts within the USACE in the St. Louis area.

A 2009 study of freshwater mussels throughout the Big River found a total of 2,198 living specimens representing 33 unionid species at 19 study reaches in the river. Nine species of state conservation concern were found, including three federally-listed species (Pink Mucket, Lampsilis abrupta; Scaleshell Mussel, Leptodea leptodon; and the recently listed Spectaclecase, Cumberlandia monodonta). The majority of the mussel population in the Big River occurs downstream from the Rockford Beach dam.

A breach or failure in the remaining section of the dam would release trace elements of lead, arsenic, barium, cadmium and zinc – all elements routinely found around older mining and industrial sites. As benthic, filter-feeding organisms, freshwater mussels are directly exposed to contaminants in sediment and surface water.

That kind of significant release would severely impact a large number of freshwater mussel species located downstream, and the Big River has an incredibly diverse mussel community.

Apart from biological impact to the endangered mussel beds, the failure of the Rockford Beach dam could present a myriad of other environmental and safety issues to the surrounding area. That contaminated sediment, if released, would be made available downstream to the floodplain and further into the Meramec River. Those deposits could disperse a concentrated volume of lead into the environment, making it a much larger problem to remediate in the future.

Construction to stabilize western portion of Rockford Beach dam

Construction to stabilize western portion of Rockford Beach dam

In January 2016, EPA entered into an Interagency Agreement (IAG) with USACE to conduct a removal action to stabilize the western portion of the dam. The eastern portion of the dam had already partially failed, which now allows for fish passage. This partial failure was not significant enough to cause the release of built-up contaminated sediment. Under the IAG, the USACE planned, designed, and constructed an interim solution to stabilize the western side of Rockford Beach dam.

Many other state and local agencies provided support to the project, including local fire and police departments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Department of Conservation, and MDNR’s Dam and Reservoir Safety Program.

In Superfund, we often work on projects that can span a lifetime, so it’s nice to be able to start a project, see it run smoothly, and witness the completion. It’s not often that you get to work on a project that allows you to build strong and lasting relations with a community, and at the same time, protect and safeguard endangered species.

About the Author: Cody McLarty serves as a remedial project manager in EPA Region 7’s Superfund program. He mainly works in the southeast Missouri mining district. Cody has a bachelor’s degree in conservation biology from the University of Texas at Austin, and a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Kansas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries

By Lek Kadeli

You may have noticed along a favorite hiking trail that some streams only appear after rainfall, or maybe you’ve seen wetlands far from the nearest river. You probably didn’t think about the importance of those smaller water bodies. But a new scientific report we’re releasing today shows that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

Our researchers conducted an extensive, thorough review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies to learn how small streams and wetlands connect to larger, downstream water bodies. The results of their work are being released today. The report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, is a state-of-the-science report that presents findings on the connectivity of streams and wetlands to larger water bodies.

So, what did the researchers find?

  1. The scientific literature clearly demonstrates that streams, regardless of their size or frequency of flow, are connected to downstream waters in ways that strongly influence their function.
  2. The literature also shows that wetlands and open waters in riparian areas (transition areas or zones between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems) and floodplains are integrated with streams and rivers, and help protect downstream waters from pollution.
  3. There is ample evidence illustrating that many wetlands and open waters located outside of riparian areas and floodplains provide functions that could benefit rivers, lakes, and other downstream waters, even where they lack surface water connections. Some potential benefits of these wetlands, in fact, are due to their isolation, rather than their connectivity.
  4. Connectivity between waters occurs in gradients determined by the physical, chemical and biological environment.
  5. The incremental contributions of individual streams and wetlands are cumulative across entire watersheds.

Before finalizing these conclusions, our researchers subjected early drafts of the report to rigorous scientific review. Reviewers came from academia, consultation groups, and other federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our Science Advisory Board reviewed the September 2013 draft of the report and comments were received from members of the public on that draft.

Based on both the extensive, state-of-the-science report and the rigorous peer review process it received, this report makes it clear: What happens in these streams and wetlands has a significant impact on downstream water bodies, including our nation’s largest waterways.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries

The following excerpt is reposted from “EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

Aerial photograph of river and wetland

EPA recently released a scientific report about the connectivity of U.S. waters.

By Lek Kadeli

You may have noticed along a favorite hiking trail that some streams only appear after rainfall, or maybe you’ve seen wetlands far from the nearest river. You probably didn’t think about the importance of those smaller water bodies. But a new scientific report we’re releasing today shows that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

Our researchers conducted an extensive, thorough review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies to learn how small streams and wetlands connect to larger, downstream water bodies. The results of their work are being released today. The report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, is a state-of-the-science report that presents findings on the connectivity of streams and wetlands to larger water bodies.

Read the rest of the post.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Do You Choose Clean Water?

By Travis Loop

Do you choose clean water? If so, we need your voice. And the voices of your friends.

Clean water is important – for drinking, swimming, and fishing. We need it for our communities, farms, and businesses. But right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country aren’t clearly protected from pollution and destruction. In fact, one in three Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams that are vulnerable. To have clean water downstream in the rivers and lakes in our neighborhoods, we need healthy headwaters upstream. That’s why we’ve proposed to strengthen protection for our water.

We hope you’ll support our clean water proposal. To help you do that, and get your friends to also voice their support, we’re using a new tool called Thunderclap; it’s like a virtual flash mob.

Here’s how it works: you agree to let Thunderclap post a one-time message on your social networks (Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr) on Monday, September 29 at 2:00 pm EDT. If 500 or more people sign up to participate, the message will be posted on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time. But if fewer than 500 sign up, nothing happens. So it’s important to both sign up and encourage others to do so.

Here’s the message we’re asking you to let us post on your behalf: “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community. www.epa.gov/USwaters”
To sum up, you can participate through these two steps:

  1. Sign up to join the Thunderclap for Clean Water: http://thndr.it/1rUOiaB
  2. Share the link to the Thunderclap with your friends and followers so we get at least 500 people sharing the message:
    a. Facebook
    b. Twitter
    c. Tumblr

Watch EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy talk about our proposal to protect clean water: http://bit.ly/1h5JgjW

Read about the proposal to protect clean water: epa.gov/uswaters



About the author: Travis Loop is the communications director for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He chooses clean water for his kids and for surfing.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA Science: Supporting the Waters of the U.S.

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA’s Leadership

By Nancy Stoner and Lek Kadeli

One of the great environmental success stories of our time is the Clean Water Act. Forty years ago, the condition of U.S. rivers, streams, lakes, coastal areas and other water resources was a national concern.

Things started to improve after the newly-established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was given direction “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” through major revisions to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (now the Clean Water Act).

But over the past decade, court decisions have created uncertainty about the Clean Water Act’s protection of certain streams and wetlands from pollution and development. In particular, the confusion centers on questions surrounding small streams and wetlands—some of which only flow after precipitation or dry up during parts of the year—and what role they play in the health of larger water bodies nearby or downstream.

This week, EPA’s Science Advisory Board released for public comment a draft scientific report, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.” This draft report synthesizes more than 1,000 peer-reviewed pieces of scientific literature about how smaller, isolated water bodies are connected to larger ones and represents the state-of-the-science on the connectivity and isolation of waters in the United States.

Read more…

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Innovative Technology for Water

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By Nancy Stoner

In March, I released a Water Technology Innovation Blueprint while visiting the University of South Florida’s (USF) College of Global Sustainability in partnership with the Water Environment Federation (WEF).  This Blueprint promotes technology innovation across the national water program as a means to speed progress toward clean and safe water.

Why is technology innovation so important?  With the challenges facing our water resources, it presents opportunities to fix these challenges faster, with significantly less cost and energy consumption. During this visit I toured USF laboratories where new technologies are already addressing some of the top ten issues mentioned in the Blueprint.  It is easy to see a paradigm shift is occurring across the water sector.

In May, I visited Clemson University’s Water Institute to learn about the Intelligent River project, which was awarded $3 million in 2011 by the National Science Foundation. Clemson is developing methods of harnessing information technology to improve decision making for river systems, like the Savannah River Basin, into which the streams near Clemson flow. Clemson is focused on collecting data from all kinds of water monitoring equipment and developing programs that will analyze all of that data to assist in river management.  It can be used not only to provide continual feedback on water pollution, flow levels, aquatic life issues and temperature, but also predict how those water quality and quantity conditions will change based on the decisions made by government, utilities, industry, and watershed groups.  This information could potentially be available to all of those groups to achieve goals like ensuring that there is more water to use during a drought, or better habitat for fish, and cleaner source water for drinking.

Next I went to Oakland, California to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District.  This wastewater facility has implemented a series of projects to produce energy, including generation of methane from waste that in turn powers generators to run a renewable energy system. This is the first of its kind in North America to be a net-energy producer. With 150,000 drinking water and 15,000 wastewater facilities nationwide accounting for 4% of the national electricity consumption, equivalent to about 56 billion kilowatt hours and costing around $4 billion dollars, a facility that not only conserves energy but generates it holds significant promise.

I plan to continue visiting innovative technology projects around the country to show their tremendous potential for solving our water challenges

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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King Tides and Sea Level Rise, Part 2

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By Nancy Stoner

Growing up in Virginia, I loved it when my family went to the beach each summer. The beach was a place where we could have fun together. Now, as the acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, I am well aware how climate change may impact the seashore and our estuaries.

Coastal processes such as tides don’t just happen right at the seashore. Tides can extend far up into our estuaries and rivers; we have tides in the Washington D.C., which is 188 miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean. Sea level rise is a concern here and all around the U.S. too. The relative rate of sea level rise measured at the Washington D.C. tide gauge from 1924 through 2012 is equivalent to 13 inches in 100 years. Sea level is projected to rise even faster in the coming decades. Higher sea levels are potential threats to water infrastructure, to homes, to our drinking water supply, and to wetlands and coastal environments.

This month, the Atlantic and Gulf coasts will be seeing their highest tides of the year in a couple of weeks. These “king tides” can cause tidal flooding in coastal communities. King tides provide a glimpse of the future, and provide us with a glimpse of potential future impacts from rising sea levels, and how things could look if sea levels do not recede. The Middle Atlantic Center for Geography & Environmental Studies website shows where and when king tides are expected to happen.

You can help record king tides through photography. The King Tides International Network recently launched a photo contest to help record king tides from all over the world. You can also submit photos of king tides to EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project. And, for more information about climate change adaptation please visit EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries program on the web.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Areas of Care

By Cameron Davis

Back in 1986, one of my first jobs as a volunteer was to help organize a forum for the public to tell the federal government what should be in the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Not long after that, the two countries created their list of “Areas of Concern,” working rivers and harbors where past pollution continues to weigh down these communities as they try to reach their environmental and economic potential.

About a quarter century later, most of the very same AOCs are still on the list. But, earlier this year, the U.S. Government delisted Erie, Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Bay Area of Concern.

The U.S. Government added Presque Isle Bay to the list in 1991 upon Pennsylvania’s recommendation. Before that, the only other AOC to be delisted was Oswego in New York in 2006.

The U.S. EPA will continue to support Pennsylvania as it monitors conditions in Presque Isle Bay to make sure we don’t go backwards again, re-contaminating the same places the public and Commonwealth worked so hard to clean up.

After years of monitoring and work, I hope Presque Isle leads the way in showing the remaining 29 AOCs in the U.S., or shared with Canada, that it can be done; that once again, these working harbors and rivers can be places where people can go to fish, swim, play, and contribute to local economic revitalization…places that can be counted as areas of care.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Personal Watersheds: Small, but Mighty

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By Jessica Werber

In law school, I was told I would one day become either a big-picture or a detail-oriented lawyer. I took the big-picture approach, but I now realize that the truth is in the small details, for it is often the cumulative small details that have the largest impact on the environment.

Waterbodies can be large or small, and you may be surprised that some of the smallest streams actually have the largest impact on your life and wellbeing. On a country drive in the Mid-Atlantic, you may see signs letting you know that you’re entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed at any number of places along the highway. Did you know that there are five major rivers and over 100,000 water bodies that connect to this larger watershed?

Now, imagine your personal watershed: the land that collects water running downhill, the area surrounding where you live and work, next to your schools, religious institutions and supermarkets. Let’s say you are out walking your dog in the local park and realize you forgot to bring a baggie. So you decide to return and pick up the poop later. But it starts to rain and you figure the rain will take care of things. Turns out, it only makes things worse. The poop is washed into a nearby small stream, which feeds into other streams and rivers, adding to increased nutrient pollution downstream and causing a variety of impacts.

You might not even know it, but your small action has triggered a bunch of reactions in your personal watershed. Think about the other people who go about their daily business. Your neighbor may use too much fertilizer on his lawn or may not be aware that the soap he uses to wash his car contains high amounts of phosphates, both of which also contribute to nutrient pollution. And what happens to all of the water that sloshes down the street in the rain? Or the household water from the shower and water that is flushed down the toilet? The answer: the water ends up in streams that connect your personal watershed to a larger one.

You can make a difference to protect your personal watershed, especially to prevent nutrient pollution. Pick up after your pet and give your neighbors some pointers about how to help minimize pollution. And, think about how even the littlest streams—which seem of tiny importance—are mighty in the end.

About the author: Jessica Werber is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. She is also a licensed attorney. This post does not represent the views of the EPA or Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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