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Tim Hoelzle Appointed CeRSER Vice President/President Elect

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Great Ecology is proud to announce that Tim Hoelzle, VP of Technical Services at Great Ecology, has been named Vice President/President Elect of the Central Rockies Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (CeRSER). Tim previously served on CeRSER’s board of directors as Treasurer, and will officially transition to his new position in January 2016.

Mr. Timothy Hoelzle

CeRSER is a regional chapter of SER serving the states of Colorado and Wyoming, whose mission is to foster ecological restoration awareness, understanding and activity among a range of participants.

Tim Hoelzle specializes in the restoration and enhancement of underutilized sites across the United States, as well as in the reclamation and remediation of lands disturbed through mining and energy extraction. His expertise also includes wetland and stream restoration, invasive species management, soil microbial community evaluations, environmental permitting, and Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR). He holds a Master’s degree in Rangeland Ecosystem Science and a Bachelor’s degree in Rangeland Ecology with a focus on Restoration Ecology from Colorado State University.

Great Ecology congratulates Tim on his elected position!

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How Healthy is the San Francisco Estuary?

Kate Gazzo, M.S.

In September, Great Ecology staff attended the State of the Estuary Conference in Oakland which is focused on the current health of the Estuary. The San Francisco Estuary, the largest estuary along the Americas western coast, supports an abundance of life, including 18 million California residents. The Estuary is comprised of the San Francisco Bay and the Delta – a network of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and their tributaries. The 2015 State of the Estuary Report (a significant component of the conference) summarizes the most recent research and ecological trends for the Bay and Delta. According to the report, the condition of the San Francisco Bay and the condition of the Delta differ. The ecological status of the Delta is degraded and in a declining state as a result of water diversions and decreased freshwater inflows. The San Francisco Bay on the other hand has received years of restoration and attention and is much healthier; however, large areas, especially marsh, are jeopardized by sea-level rise.


Bay-Delta Overview

Overview of the Bay-Delta/Estuary system. Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey


What factors have caused the Estuary to be in decline?

The Delta has been in a state of artificial drought for over fifty years (San Francisco Estuary Partnership 2015). Diversion of freshwater flows to the south for municipal and agricultural use have led to decreased freshwater entering the Bay and saltwater intrusion. Freshwater flows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers historically entered the delta, mixed with saltwater, and created abundant brackish water habitat; they also delivered sediment that created and sustained marsh habitat along the Bay-Delta. Over time, as less fresh water has entered the system, the salinity gradient, also known as the X2 gradient, has migrated further into the Delta and increased the salinity of these areas, altering habitat conditions for species such as Bay shrimp (San Francisco Estuary Partnership 2015). Additionally, little sediment is now imported under the low flow conditions across the Bay and Delta. In the face of climate change and sea-level rise, existing tidal marshes in the Bay Area are expected to flood and transition to open water habitat. Because the North and Central Bays are highly developed, there is little room upslope migration of marshes (San Francisco Estuary Partnership 2015).

Canal Water Transport

Canals built to transport water to south for human use have greatly dewatered the Estuary. Image Source: California Department of Water Resources

How is the drought affecting the Estuary?

The Bay-Delta/Estuary is facing a slew of problems including, projected sea-level rise between 2-5 ft., increasing water and air temperatures, salinity intrusion, and less water in spring and summer due to decreased snowpack (San Francisco Estuary Partnership 2015). However, the most pressing problem this year appeared to be a lack of water caused by continued water diversions coupled with extensive drought. The current drought is considered one of the worst on record due to the combination of minimal precipitation and historically unmatched high temperatures (MacDonald 2015). The combination of artificial human-induced drought and natural drought have led to a fraction of freshwater flows the Estuary typically receives under a normal water years, resulting in minimal water to be shared among fish, birds, farms, and municipalities.

Lake Oroville Reservoir

As of November, Lake Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir was only at 28% of its capacity.
Image source: Paul Hames|California Department of Water Resources


How can we improve conditions in the Estuary?

With El Niño predicted to bring intense precipitation across California in 2016, some relief in the Estuary may be provided next year by increased river flows; nonetheless, flows will become increasingly inconsistent in forthcoming years as the frequency of floods and droughts becomes more variable. While many models indicate precipitation will increase across California, drought is also expected to be more frequent. Strategies to adapt to an uncertain climate future in the Estuary emerged at this year’s Conference. These strategies included:

SOE - RepairReferences

G. MacDonald. “Drought, Demography, and Conservation in 21st Century California”. State of the Estuary Conference. Oakland, CA. September 2, 2015.
San Francisco Estuary Partnership. 2015. State of the Estuary 2015. Oakland, CA.

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Great Ecology Participates in Woodbridge New Jersey Waterfront Park Public Access Groundbreaking Event

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On October 27, 2015, Woodbridge Township Mayor, John E. McCormac, introduced the public access groundbreaking event at the Woodbridge Waterfront Park.  This important milestone, attended by the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency, the Brownfields Development Area Steering Committee, Great Ecology and other members of the development team, signified the site’s transition from restoration efforts to the construction of trails, boardwalks, and an overlook structure which will provide valued public access to the site and views of the Raritan River.  The overlook structure, conceived and designed by Great Ecology, will initiate the series of construction activities slated for the public access element of the project.

Learn more about Great Ecology’s work supporting the Woodbridge Waterfront Park Restoration.

Woodbridge Construction

Mayor John E. McCormac with rendering of Woodbridge Waterfront Park at groundbreaking announcement.

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Join us in Manchester for SER World 2015!

Great Ecology’s President, Dr. Mark Laska and VP, Technical Services, Timothy Hoelzle are heading to the SER World Congress next week, August 23-27. The bi-annual conference unites leading practitioners, researchers, and government agencies focused on ecological restoration from across the world.

We are thrilled to be a part of this year’s event as both Dr. Laska and Mr. Hoelzle are chairing sessions and presenting restoration best practices and innovative projects.

Monday, August 24:
Mr. Hoelzle joins Dr. Aida Farag of the U.S. Geological Society to lead two symposia on Monday and Tuesday.

For the first symposium, Mr. Hoelzle and Dr. Farag will lead a session on Restoration and monitoring for success for lands and aquatic systems impacted by resource extraction (SY10; Monday @ 10:30). This session will focus on identifying constraints and opportunities for restoration of drastically disturbed environments with a focus on regulatory issues, novel reclamation methodologies, and economic modeling approaches. Mr. Hoelzle will present opinions on reclamation and restoration of lands where selenium issues are of concern (SY10.4). In addition, Dr. Laska joins the session to present how creative solutions driven by ecology can be applied to achieve beneficial re-use for underutilized properties (SY10.1).

The second symposium, Restoration of impaired ecosystems: An ounce of prevention or a pound of cure?, will present the results of the SETAC-SER Technical Workgroup meeting in summer 2014 (SY22; Tuesday @ 1:10). This Workgroup united top scientists and practitioners to develop best practices for the integration of remediation and restoration of contaminated ecosystems. The session will focus on the key findings on restoration goal setting, implementation, monitoring, and important pitfalls, which will also be published in an upcoming journal issue of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.

Tuesday, August 25
Our cities are becoming more populated and worldwide cities are making a push to increase urban green spaces. In the Oral Presentations O24 session, Dr. Laska stresses the core features of successful urban restoration projects. The challenge, create highly functioning and resilient ecosystems in the face of competing pressures. Join Dr. Laska to learn the best practices for the urban, hybrid ecosystems. It all starts with location!

Session Details:
1605 Oral Presentations O24 EXCHANGE 8
Moderators: Mark S. Laska, Ph.D. and Louise Egerton-Warburton, USA
Theme: Participation and Urban Restoration Urban restoration

O24.1 Designing for function and resiliency: using science to enhance habitat and enrich the landscape experience M.S. Laska, Ph.D., Great Ecology, San Diego, USA

O24.2 Transforming the Way Children Learn to Care and Act about Endangered Species S.S. Burnes, L. C. Jones, Captain Planet Foundation, Atlanta, USA

O24.3 Prescribed Goat Browsing at the University of Georgia (USA): Contexts, goals, impacts, and advantages E.G. King1,2, E.A. MacDonald3 – 1Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia,Athens, USA, 2Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, USA, 3College of Environment and Design, University of Georgia, Athens, USA

O24.4 Should we sweat the small stuff? Restoration and management effects on litter decomposition and microbial functioning in the Chicago Wilderness L.M. Egerton-Warburton1, L.G. Umek1,2 – 1Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, USA, 2Program in Plant Biology and Conservation, Northwestern University, Evanston, USA

O24.5 The Formal and the Informal City in Africa: Planning and Governance Dilemmas G.I. Nwaka, Humanities and Social Sciences, Abia State University, Uturu, Nigeria

Check out one, both, or all of their talks!

Contact us to set up a meeting with Dr. Laska or Mr. Hoelzle at SER World.

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Concept to Completion – The Croton Water Filtration Plant

Integrating the built and natural environments, the newly completed Croton Water Filtration Plant is a now providing water to New York City. With the capacity to filter 290 million gallons of water per day, approximately 1/3 of the City’s water needs, the Plant is New York City’s first filtration plant and the result of an interdisciplinary project team.

The City receives the majority of its water from nearby reservoirs, providing the largest unfiltered water supply in the U.S. and earning the City’s reputation for the cleanest drinking water. However, due to development within the Croton Watershed, water quality deteriorated and in 1998 the City was required to build a filtration plant to meet federal drinking water requirements.

To reduce the footprint of the Plant, one of the City’s largest infrastructure projects, it is built approximately 80-feet below ground in Van Cortlandt Park and includes a 9-acre green roof – the Mosholu Golf Course driving range. The team used green infrastructure and water resource management best practices to solve key challenges of how to collect, filter, and store water on site.  The result of a creative collaboration between regulators, architects, and ecologists, the design minimizes the discharge of stormwater and groundwater into the sewer system by on-site treatment using constructed wetlands and bioswales benefiting the surrounding ecosystems.

The multi-billion dollar project has been a long time in the making, from the initial concept designs to excavation to construction and planting to flowing water.

The project was led by the Hazyen and Sawyer/ Metcalf & Eddy Joint Venture. Great Ecology supported the Grimshaw Architects Team along with Rana Creek, Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Atelier Ten, and Sherwood Design Engineers.

The NYC Department of Environmental Protection has more details on the Plant, including additional photos and a video of a blast during the creation of the 12-ft diameter, 880-ft long tunnel.

Below are just a few of our top images from the project.

Rendering by Grimshaw Architects.

Graphic details the different habitats which surround the plant and provide water resource management.

Aerial view of construction of the filtration plant.

Aerial view of construction of the filtration plant.

Planting a section of the greenroof - a 9-acre greenroof covers the filtration plant.

Planting a section of the greenroof – a 9-acre greenroof covers the filtration plant.

Mosholu Golf Course driving range sits on top of the Croton Water Filtration Plant.

The Mosholu Golf Course driving range sits on top of the Croton Water Filtration Plant.

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Waters of the U.S. Revisions – What you Need to Know

The final rule of the Clean Water Act’s definition of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) was issued on May 27, 2015. Initially proposed last year, the changes will go into effect shortly. Project managers and landowners need to understand how the revised ruling will affect their projects.

10 Second Summary

  1. The new rules sought to add clarity and reduce the number of case-by-case jurisdictional determinations, however some vagueness remains.
    1. One example: the 4,000 foot rule, which states waters within 4,000 feet of navigable or jurisdictional waters are also jurisdictional, if they are connected to downstream waters
  2. The revised definition of tributary appears largely unchanged, and will still require significant nexus tests to downstream jurisdictional waters
  3. Final rule also creates a new uniform definition for “significant nexus.”
  4. There still appear to be aspects of the rule that are not entirely clear and will require interpretation and individual assessment based on its specific physical features.
  5. There may also be confusion around whether erosional features and ditches, may now fit the description of jurisdictional ones if they are defined differently or are confused with ephemeral streams (this has led to the concern that farm ditches are now potentially jurisdictional).

Impetus for the Rule change
The motivation was based around confusion over the definition of Waters of the U.S. jurisdiction following court rulings, including Solid Waste agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. United States.

Key Aspects of the Rule Change
The new rule outlines 8 categories of waters, 6 of which are jurisdictional by rule, and 2 of which are subject to significant nexus tests. The two which are subject to test are:

  1. Five types of regional waters but must have a connection to downstream water, such as prairie potholes.
  2. Waters within the 100-year floodplain of a traditionally navigable water or within 4,000 feet of jurisdictional water.

Another change, revised the definition “tributary” water of a traditionally navigable water, which is currently jurisdictional. Per the definition, a tributary must have physical signs or features of flow – defined bed and bank, and an ordinary high water mark (OHWM).

Implementation of the Rule
There is a grandfathering provision for transitioning to the new rule from the old one. JDs (jurisdictional determinations) that are submitted prior to the posting of the new rule in the Federal Register may use the old rules. The new rule will be effective 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

In a panel discussion hosted by the Environmental Law Institute government officials and legal advisors discussed industry, NGO, and agency perspectives. We recap select key points below, and you can listen to the full panel discussion on C-Span.

Industry Perspective on the Rule
The main issue from the industry representative is that the rules are largely unchanged relative to defining jurisdiction, and in particular to the definition of “tributary”. The agencies still use the OHWM (ordinary high water mark) method, which is problematic and broad, and may lead to regulation of a variety of water conveyances.

The distance threshold is also problematic. If any part of a feature is within the 4,000-ft threshold and is connected, the whole feature is regulated.

Portions of exclusions in the new rules are problematic. Erosional features are excluded, but only if they lack a defined bed and bank, stream features, and an OHWM. There may be difficulty distinguishing erosional features, ephemeral streams, and ephemeral ditches.

Certain features created in dry land are excluded, but there is no agreed upon definition of “dry land”. Artificial water features may or may not be jurisdictional depending on whether they were created in dry land, which must be proven historically.

NGO Perspective
A representative from the Natural Resources Defense Council was largely in favor of the changes. He noted disappointment with an exclusion for isolated wetlands, which he explained are mostly excluded from jurisdiction (as long as there is no connection to traditionally navigable water or tributaries).

Dry Land Exclusion & OHWM Discussion
The panel discussed the dry land exclusion, which the industry representative suggested may affect features such as green infrastructure. For example, a stormwater swale created to capture water may take on wetland characteristics over time, which may result in this feature becoming jurisdictional over time if it can’t be proven that the feature was created in dry land. The EPA insisted that the likelihood of losing tract of the history of these features is unlikely.

OHWM has regional variability. The EPA suggested that adding presence of “physical features” will help to add clarity to determining jurisdictional streams. The USACE panelist indicated that the USACE will provide resources, including manuals, to help make these determinations.

Additional reference: The National Law Review

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Environmental Business Journal Winner

Great Ecology is thrilled to be the Environmental Business Journal’s Achiever of the Week!

Each week the EBJ highlights one of the 2014 Business Achievement Award Winners. Great Ecology was recognized in the for our 21% growth rate and year end revenue of $4.6M in 2014. This is Great Ecology’s second year as a Business Achievement awardee, receiving the Bronze Medal for Small Firms in 2013.

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Phragmites 101


Trekking through a Phragmites dominated area in one of our project sites.

Phragmites australis, everyone’s favorite invasive species and found on almost all wetland restoration projects. Recovery of Phragmites dominated areas, requires knowing what treatment options are available, how the selected treatment will impact recovery, and the likelihood of success.

Our Associate Ecologist, Zak Lehmann, shares new research, trends, and developments surrounding Phragmites removal and recovery presented at the 2015 Society for Wetland Scientists Annual Meeting.

We know Phragmites is more productive both above and belowground – crushing native plant communities. This increased productivity means they have a higher nitrogen demand. However, they are able to thrive in nutrient-limited ecosystems – how? Justin Meschter of Northeastern University answered this question in the session, Deeply Rooting Phragmites Australis Utilizes Deep N Pools to Circumvent Competition with Native Species and Meet Higher Aboveground Nitrogen Demands.

  • The study found that Phragmites has a high nitrogen (N) content when compared with other saltmarsh plants.
  • Most of the nitrogen is found in the leaves, not the stem or the roots.
  • As compared to native species, the deep root biomass of Phragmites allows the plant to access deep nitrogen pools.
  • Found the highest nitrogen uptake at 40cm highest (in roots) all the way down to 80 cm (over 2.5 feet) below the surface.
 Installation of test plots to assess phragmites root depth at one of our project sites.

Installation of test plots to assess Phragmites root depth at one of our project sites.

What happens to land after removing Phragmites and how easily can the land recover itself? Eric Hazelton of Utah State University presented 5-years of monitoring data after Phragmites removal from study site in Chesapeake Bay. Key findings presented in the session, Tidal Phragmites Marshes Have Diverse Native Seed Banks: What is Limiting Recruitment After the Invader is Removed:

  • Diverse native population still present in seed bank of soil samples grown in lab.
  • The amount of time Phragmites dominated the land determines the ability of the land to recover to its native habitat.
  • Areas that had been dominated for less time were more likely to recover than areas that had stayed a mono-culture for prolonged periods of time.
  • This is likely due to changes in elevation and hydrology due to Phragmites root mats.

What this means for restoration projects: Gradual elimination of these types of habitats may be better at promoting native recovery instead of a single, holistic elimination.

  • While this is not a new idea, it’s important for practitioners as the study provides empirical evidence to back it up.
  • Many restoration projects artificially recover the sites through planting native species, so although it’s important to understand the science of the seed back, recovery is artificially induced.

Another study detailed the effects of various removal treatments used along the Great Salt Lake. The study applied removal treatments at two scales; smaller 1-acre plots, newer Phragmites invasion, and 3-acre plots of older well-established invasives.

Removal treatments applied to both scales (1-4):

  1. Untreated control
  2. Fall glyphosate spray, winter mow
  3. Summer imazapyr spray, winter mow
  4. Summer glyphosate spray, winter mow
  5. Fall imazapyr spray, winter mow (only used on the large scale plots)

Used on the smaller test plots (plus treatments 1-4 above)

  1. Summer mow, fall glyphosate spray
  2. Summer mow, then black plastic solarization

Interesting results:

  • The project size (1 or 3 acres) was unrelated to the effectiveness of the removal treatments
  • The black plastic solar treatment (only used on the small plots) was not effective.
  • (Treatment is as it sounds: cover an area with black plastic which shades the Phragmites seeds and rhyzomes as well as prevents additional seeding from neighboring plants, preventing it from growing back.)
  • The time of herbicide application should be during the summer before seeds develop. This allows for the best natural recovery (assuming multiple herbicide applications over more than 1 year).
  • Native plants can recover within one year if seedbank is still present. (Found on both scales.)

Study presented by Christine Rohal, University of Utah. Session: Phragmites Management at Multiple Scales: Method Comparisons on the Great Salt Lake.

An evaluation of the genet richness (a measure of genetic diversity) of Phragmites found in the Great Salt Lake and Chesapeake Bay wetlands found that:

  • Salinity thresholds of Phragmites determine the limit of clonal expansion more than other factors, such as inundation or shading.
  • Threshold is 30 ppt in porewater – which is about the same as saltwater.
  • A herbicide application test found that more concentrated herbicide solutions are not more effective (in removal) than the recommended concentrations.
  • The data also indicated that non-native clones of Phragmites (the Euro-invasive genotypes) spreads more by seed than other methods

Study presented by Karin Kettenring, Utah State University. Session: Patterns of Phragmites Clonal Diversity Across Space, Time and Management Regimes.

When selecting removal methods, it’s important to know and understand which techniques will promote natural recruitment. A more general discussion tied together ideas discussed above.

  • The biggest issue preventing natural recovery is the litter created by Phragmites during removal.
  • This is why burning appears more attractive as a removal technique but is quickly becoming harder to do (especially in urbanized areas.)
  • A good hydrologic regime is critical for natural recovery
  • Managing water levels is important for promoting native plant species and discouraging Phragmites.
  • By manipulating inundation time and salinity we can help restrict recolonization and promote native species growth.
  • Herbicide face-off: In a study in New Jersey, Imazapyr performed better than Glyphosate. An interesting result as glyphosate is used as the preferred industry standard herbicide.
  • Flail mowers typically are a much more successful mechanical removal technique (as compared to other mowers, discers, or manual removal.) The goal here is to mulch (destroy) as much of the potential litter material as possible.

We’ve shared only a small fraction of the ideas, research, and developments presented during the conference which covered much more than Phragmites. View the full program and abstracts to learn more.

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Planning for the Future of California’s Coastline

Sea level rise is not evenly distributed globally. The coastline of western North America has not faced the same level of challenges of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts but addressing and adapting to sea level rise in California is a top priority. The 2015 Coastal Symposium united leaders in coastal resiliency planning from municipalities, state and federal agencies, academia, and the private sector. Our Director of Ecology and California native, Nick Buhbe, attended the symposium and shares his top take-aways ranging from notable coastal projects to adaptive planning tools already in use.

Leading researcher and consultant, Dr. Reinhard E. Flick of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, shared his extensive research in coastal processes including sea level rise (SLR), effects of tides and storm surge, and coastal erosion.

  • The Keeling Curve demonstrates a 25% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) during the last 50 years. We know that this represents a continuation of CO2 releases which dramatically increased following the Industrial Revolution, and that the rate of increase is unprecedented.
    • As we have no reference of an increase of this magnitude in the geologic record, the effects are not predictable.
    • However, we do know that effects are being realized, and it is a question of when the effects will be felt, not whether the effects will occur.

Based on what is known from studies of the polar regions, there is already 30-40 feet of SLR which “baked in” to the climate change which is unavoidable; the question is how fast will the SLR be realized.

  • SLR will not be the direct result of the much publicized breakup of ice shelves (such as Larsen B in Antarctica), as ice shelves are essentially floating and act as barriers to glacier flow from the land into the sea. Rather, without the protection of ice shelves, glaciers will flow into the sea and sea levels will increase.

Changes will not be overnight, but the effects are likely to be driven by chance coincidence of storm surges and high tide events.  At low tide, effects of storm surges or large wave events will be relatively muted.  However, when the high wave events or storm surges occur over long periods of time or match with “king tides,” the effects will be significant as areas not usually inundated become flooded.

  • SLR effects will be particularly pronounced when hard structures, such as seawalls, or natural features such as cliffs, prevent the beach from moving upward. In such cases, the likely effect will be the acceleration of erosion (if not in the direct area, then in adjacent areas) and potentially dramatic changes to the character of the beach itself.
  • Stilwell Hall (Monterey County, California) – an example of natural correction of a shoreline when hard backshore structures are removed.
    • Constructed in 1940s, the abandoned building was torn down in 2003 before it slid into the ocean as the shoreline armoring couldn’t be maintained effectively.
    • Check out the incredible before and after photos taken by Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman.

The California Coastal Commission’s Draft Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance is a framework addressing sea level rise in Local Coastal Programs (LCPs) and Coastal Development Permits (CDPs). Specifically, it details how the State intends to apply the California Coastal Act, the primary coastal management law to address land use, public access and recreation, and the protection of coast and ocean resources.

  •  Resiliency planning and adaptation projects in California are especially complex with the extensive infrastructure and resources located along the coast. Some of the largest cities, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco are directly on the coast and do not have the option to pick up and retreat inland.
    • Our major interstate freeways travel up and down the coastline.
    • California’s coastal and ocean economy: $40B (NOEP 2010).
    • Sea levels are increasing the fastest at Humbolt Bay in Northern California.
  • It is likely that many of the coastal resiliency projects in California will be implemented on a local scale by municipalities–this means that some areas will elect to use natural barriers whereas others may choose to build hard structures such as seawalls.

Following sessions presented case studies of Local Seas Level Rise Adaptation Planning Projects funded by the California Coastal Conservancy, Coastal Commission and Ocean Protection Council. Key take-aways from the case studies:

Where we are: 
We’ve built many models and used them and other tools to inform vulnerability.

Where were going:
Vulnerability studies and adaptation pathway analyses have been used to develop site-specific projects, which have been implemented and are in the process of being evaluated for lessons learned.

Of particular interest to Great Ecology’s coastal scientists was the Thin Layer Salt Marsh Sediment Augmentation Project.

  • The US Fish & Wildlife Service is spraying a thin layer of sediment over 10-acres of a low salt marsh within the Seal Beach Natural Wildlife Reserve.
  • The project will monitor the physical and ecological responses of the marsh to the additional sediment over a 5 year period.
  • Why it matters: if the project successfully document effectiveness of the sediment spray strategy in combating sea level rise, it is a natural SLR protection measure applicable to important rare habitats prioritized for conservation.

We know successful resiliency projects may include artificial reefs, tidal marsh enhancements, living or soft shorelines, and dunes. However, there are still a few big questions remaining:

  • How do we get sediments from land-locked retention structures (dams and flood control structures) to beaches to improve resiliency?
  • An Orange County pilot study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Prado Dam is currently under consideration to study one application of this idea.

  • How do coastal managers engage the public to bring this to the forefront at the city, state, and federal levels?
  • Presenters advised although SLR and climate change are often met with skepticism, communicating the importance of protecting infrastructure and responsible taxpayer fund management has been well received.

As we know sea level rise and resiliency planning and adaption are highly complex. Currently in California, pilot projects are being implemented at the local levels, and the lessons learned from these first steps will greatly inform what tools can be effectively implemented to minimize catastrophic effects.

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Shaping Our 21st Century Waterfront

Today, resiliency and New York City are deeply intertwined. Last week the Waterfront Alliance (WA) (formerly the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance) hosted their annual Waterfront Conference. With speakers and attendees from all sectors, discussions focused on new approaches, ideas, and best practices for waterfront resiliency and development. Our Director of Design, Linda Gumeny, RLA and Associate Landscape Architect, Carl Carlson attended and share their top take-aways.

NYC  Coastal Resiliency

The New York City metropolitan waterfront, with resiliency and development as two of the major themes for this year’s Waterfront Alliance conference.

Key themes throughout the day:

      • Integrating ecology with waterfront design.
      • Enhancing and creating transportation networks.
      • Importance of strong community engagement.
      • Resilience and green vs. gray infrastructure.

Integrating ecology with waterfront design

This has been a growing trend in the landscape architecture field and the basis of Great Ecology’s approach (ecology + design).

      • Earlier this year, the WA released their Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG) and have several projects in New York as trial runs for the program.
        • WEDG is a rating system (or scorecard) for properties directly on the waterfront and the result of collaboration between multi-disciplinary waterfront experts and government regulators.
        • The certification program allows projects to earn credits in seven categories including: site selection and planning, public access, resiliency, and ecological health.
        • The goal is to create best-practices for public agencies, communities, and developers for waterfront development nationwide.
        • The trial WEDG projects include: the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Sandy Hook Pilots Association Headquarters, Domino Sugar Site, and Sunset Park Materials Recovery Facility.
      • As ecologists and designers it’s interesting and exciting to see (and hear) terms that used to be solely in the realm of ecology becoming mainstream in the design community, from “ecological uplift”, to “ecosystem services”, to “habitat equivalency analysis”.
Eco Park/Pier 35, East River Waterfront, NYC

Great Ecology’s East River Waterfront Eco-park Design project, integrated ecology with design to create ecological uplift through an intertidal habitat slab.

Enhancing and creating transportation networks

The overarching topic of the day, particularly new ferry links for low income and disconnected neighborhoods, a cornerstone of Mayor DeBlasio’s five-borough ferry service initiative.

Strong community engagement

Several presenters emphasized the importance of understanding and acknowledging true experts of a community are those who live within it – they need to be involved in any planning or design process.

      • We often get caught up in the protection aspect of coastal resiliency. But presenters reminded us other components are just as necessary. Specifically, presenters called for large scale capital projects to also include the promotion of economic and social development for neighborhoods affected by rising sea-levels, storm surge, and other events.
      • At a breakout group many community members took part in discussing the importance of creating connections to a long ignored creek in Coney Island. They looked at ways to combine access, ecology, and resiliency in an area hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Resilience and green vs. gray infrastructure

The consensus is engineers need to work with landscape architects and ecologists to develop hybrid green/gray alternatives. Each project location is unique and presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. There is no one size fits all solution for resiliency.

      • Even discussed at one point is the controversial idea that phragmites (an invasive species) may have some benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked (We’ll save that for another blog).

Developing, designing, and implementing resiliency measures requires a collaborative, integrated approach blending all disciplines from engineering, to design to ecology. We need to plan for the future and layer in resiliency planning from sea-level rise to drier climates into all projects to ensure long-term success.

Waterfront Alliance President and CEO, Roland Lewis, sums it up perfectly; “At the waterfront, it’s all about collaboration. We learn from each other and challenge each other—and our collective wisdom results in better, more inclusive decisions for our coastal communities.”

As practioners we need to understand how we can adapt best practices and creative approaches to different waterfronts and coastal environments. Which lessons learned from New York City can be applied to San Diego or San Francisco? How about New Orleans? What can each city teach us for the others?

The upcoming Coastal Symposium in San Diego, CA is focused on understanding and applying lessons learned. Stay tuned for our next take-aways after attending and exhibiting at the conference.

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