In 2005, MassDEP identified the need to monitor and assess wetlands conditions as part of a comprehensive wetlands program as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The goal is to maintain and restore the physical, chemical and biological integrity of Massachusetts' wetlands. Loss from dredge, fill and removal activities in wetlands identified through permitting or enforcement action has been the primary focus of the MassDEP Wetlands Program for years. Wetlands degradation, however, can also extend beyond the footprint of a project, or be caused by activities beyond wetlands jurisdiction, having significant effects on wetlands health that are much more difficult to regulate. For example, increased development and stormwater runoff originating beyond wetlands jurisdiction can result in significant water quality and hydrological alteration, affecting wetlands health. Also, as buffer zones shrink due to land development, wetlands health may continue to degrade since buffer zones play an important role in preservation of the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of adjacent wetlands.
In collaboration with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass-Amherst) and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, MassDEP is developing a strategy to monitor and assess wetlands so that we can obtain better baseline data to assess changes in wetland health, target wetland protection and restoration to integrate with impaired waters recovery efforts, and improve mitigation success to ensure No Net Loss of Wetlands.
Toward this goal, MassDEP, UMass-Amherst and MCZM have sampled 256 forested wetland sites and 165 salt marsh sites since the summer of 2008 (preliminary research was done during the summer of 2007).
The MassDEP Wetlands Program and UMass-Amherst recently received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a follow-up to the University's 1998 study, " Compensatory Wetland Mitigation in Massachusetts file size 1MB ."
Our goal is to determine the effectiveness, statewide, of wetlands replacement in order to guide our policy and regulation development and to document the findings of our research. The report will not include property-owner names or addresses, nor will it describe specific town success or failure in meeting replication requirements. It is not our intention to use this study for enforcement purposes.
Consistent with the parameters of the original study, MassDEP has randomly identified 44 towns for participation in the study update. This study will review all Notice of Intent applications and plans and associated Orders of Conditions filed between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2008, in order to identify and collect data pertinent to freshwater wetlands replacement approved by the conservation commissions. For all projects found to have freshwater wetland replacement approved, a field investigation and subsequent data analyses will be conducted to assess wetland-replacement success. Additionally, we will be conducting our Forested Wetland Site Level Assessment Method (SLAM), developed through our monitoring and assessment project, at a minimum of 5 forested wetland-replacement sites to determine whether forested wetland replacement areas are meeting expected biological condition. This project began in February 2012 and is still in the process of being completed. MassDEP staff have reviewed and assessed 40 wetland replacement sites this past Summer/Fall (2012). Results will help us assess and determine whether we should revise policies and standards for wetland replication and replacement.
River & Stream Continuity Demonstration Project: Prioritizing Stream Crossing Improvements using CAPS and WIRe
IS analysis by the Mass. Riverways Program has produced an estimate of over 28,500 road and railroad crossings affecting Massachusetts streams. The primary design principle of most of the culverts currently in place is to move water across a road. Culvert design rarely considered ecosystem processes, such as natural hydrology, sediment transport, fish and wildlife passage, or the movement of woody debris. So, not surprisingly, many culverts significantly disrupt the movement of aquatic organisms.
Road networks and river systems share several things in common. Both are long, linear features of the landscape. Transporting materials (and organisms) is fundamental to how they function. Connectivity is key to the continued functioning of both systems. Ultimately, our goal should be to create a transportation infrastructure that does not fragment or undermine the essential ecological infrastructure of the land. Begun in 2000, the River and Stream Continuity Project is an effort to inventory, and more effectively address, barriers to fish movement and river and stream continuity. MassDEP will use the information gained through this project to target stream crossings proposed to be altered during permitting. MassDEP's data management system, "WIRe", can now geospatially display projects with stream crossings proposed. By using the WIRe and Stream Continuity databases, MassDEP can target for further review projects that have the best potential to increase river and stream continuity and landscape connectivity.
In October of 2011, MassDEP received an EPA Wetland Program Development Grant (WPDG) to conduct a demonstration project that would promote improved river and stream continuity. The EPA-funded study is being conducted in collaboration with the ongoing River and Stream Continuity Project (The Continuity Project). In this demonstration project, The Continuity Project will train MassDEP staff who will conduct assessments and train other volunteers. The project's goal is to assess 600 stream crossing structures, using the field protocol developed by The Continuity Project, in specific sub-watersheds of the Ipswich, Buzzards Bay and Chicopee in two years.
In 2000, UMass-Amherst convened a variety of agencies and organizations, including the Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (MADER) and American Rivers, who were concerned about the impact of road-stream crossings on fish and other aquatic organism passage. The goals of The Continuity Project are:
- Technical guidance and standards for river/stream crossings;
- Systems for prioritizing crossing structures for upgrade or replacement; and
- A program to inventory road-stream crossing structures and assess the extent to which they are a barrier to fish and wildlife passage.
The first two goals have been met. The technical guidance and standards are available from The Continuity Project, and a separate project, "Critical Linkages", developed by UMass in collaboration with TNC, met the second goal. The Critical Linkages project uses the UMass Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS) model as a tool to protect existing habitat connections and prioritize locations of existing crossings where restoration would provide the best ecological improvement. To meet the third goal, a protocol for assessing and scoring crossing structures has been developed; however, our ability to use these data in CAPS will not be fully realized until a substantial number of crossings have been evaluated and entered into the Stream Continuity Database.
In this demonstration project, The Continuity Project will train MassDEP staff who will conduct assessments and train other volunteers. The project's goal is to assess 600 stream crossing structures, using the field protocol developed by The Continuity Project, in specific sub-watersheds of the Ipswich, Buzzards Bay and Quinebaug.
The assessment data will be used to produce an "aquatic" value depicting how severe a barrier each crossing is. The aquatic barrier score is then input into the CAPS model to prioritize crossings by determining which ones - if improved - would result in the highest benefit in ecological integrity and to fish and wildlife passage. MassDEP will use the information gained to target stream crossings proposed to be altered during permitting. MassDEP's data management system, "WIRe", can now geospatially display projects with stream crossings proposed. By using the WIRe & Stream Continuity databases, MassDEP can target projects for further review that have the best potential to increase river and stream continuity and landscape connectivity.
MassDEP is partnering with UMass-Amherst, the Nature Conservancy, the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, and American Rivers, who are concerned about the impact of road-stream crossings (culverts, bridges, fords) on fish and other aquatic-organism passage. From June 1 to September 30, 2012, MassDEP regional Wetlands Circuit Riders and Stream Survey Coordinators completed 415 road-stream crossing surveys in specific sub-watersheds of the Ipswich, Buzzards Bay and Chicopee with the help of volunteers and other department staff. This project is part of an ongoing state, regional, and national effort to assess crossings so that we can better identify and prioritize upgrades for crossings that would make the most difference for fish and wildlife passage.
The MassDEP project began June 2012 and will continue through Fall 2013.
MassDEP's collaborative multi-agency Wetlands Monitoring and Assessment Projects are funded in part by several awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) Wetlands Program Development grants. As a requirement for implementing these grants, MassDEP must develop and submit for USEPA approval a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) for each project awarded. QAPPs outline how each grant will meet best management practices and protocols to ensure reliability and scientific accuracy of data collected, safety of field staff, and assurance that the environment/natural resources are protected from the spread of invasive flora and fauna in the course of field work. MassDEP has received USEPA approval of the QAPPs for Salt Marsh and Forested Wetland Monitoring, Wetland Mitigation Study and River and Stream Continuity Assessment.
Forested Wetland Quality Assurance Project Plan file size 4MB
Wetland Mitigation Study QAPP file size 1MB
Salt Marsh Quality Assurance Project Plan file size 2MB
For more information about the River and Stream Continuity Pilot Demonstration Project, contact:
Nancy Lin for general information: Nancy.Lin@state.ma.us
Christine Odiaga for Buzzards Bay sub-watershed: Christine.Odiaga@state.ma.us
Pamela Merrill for Ipswich sub-watershed: Pamela.Merrill@state.ma.us
Mark Stinson for the Chicopee sub-watershed: Mark.Stinson@state.ma.us
Additional information about the state, regional and national effort to assess crossings is posted at www.streamcontinuity.org.
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