DER works with many partners across a variety of aquatic systems – from freshwater to saltwater – to restore the ecological integrity of degraded habitats for the benefit of people and the environment. Emphasis is placed on projects that are self-sustaining and provide long-term benefits that assist in “the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed,” as defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration.
Physical restoration techniques such as culvert and bridge replacement, stream naturalization, and dam removal are designed and implemented to maximize restoration benefits for aquatic habitat while minimizing negative impacts to infrastructure, cultural resources, and the built environment. DER also considers sustainable stream flow as integral to watershed health. Many streams, especially in eastern Massachusetts, are subject to excessive water withdrawals and other manipulations of the natural hydrologic regime. Restoring natural stream flow through impoundment management, water conservation, and infrastructure planning are techniques that can be used to improve aquatic ecosystem functions.
The Division operates three aquatic habitat restoration programs that focus staff expertise and resources on rivers, wetlands, and flow. Working in partnership with public, private, and non-governmental organizations, DER has completed over 100 restoration projects, restoring over 1,000 acres of tidal wetlands and miles of rivers and freshwater habitats. The number of active projects in development at any given time typically exceeds 50.
An example of a completed project that addressed ecosystem restoration comprehensively is the Eel River Headwaters Restoration in Plymouth . There, retired cranberry bogs are being restored to Atlantic white cedar swamp complete with a naturally flowing, barrier-free, coldwater river with riparian floodplain wetlands. This complex project was designed to transform a severely degraded watershed landscape into a healthy, resilient, and fully functioning freshwater ecosystem. The Eel River project approach and partnerships exemplify the integrated, holistic goals of the Division of Ecological Restoration.