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  1. Ecological SystemsMaintaining and Enhancing Natural Features and Minimizing Adverse Impacts of Infrastructure ProjectsModule 6Restoring Ecological Function

  2. Emily Mitchell Ayers, Ph.D. The Low Impact Development Center, Inc. emayers@lowimpactdevelopment.org

  3. Learning Outcomes • Understand the value of ecological restoration • Learn to focus on restoring ecological function rather than appearance • Become familiar with techniques employed in a variety of restoration contexts

  4. Ecologically-Sensitive Design Process • Know where you are • Avoid sensitive areas • Minimize infrastructure impacts • Mitigate unavoidable losses • Improve ecological function where possible

  5. Mitigation Banking • When damage to a wetland, stream, or aquatic resource is unavoidable, impacts may be offset by restoring or preserving an equivalent resource off-site • Mitigation Banks are areas set aside to create large-scale, intact ecosystems EPA

  6. Advantages of Mitigation Banking • Wetlands in mitigation banks are restored prior to the destruction of existing wetlands on-site, which allows verification of equivalent function • Larger intact ecosystems are more stable than smaller, fragmented systems, and can support larger wildlife

  7. Caveats • Mitigation banking is well-established only for wetlands; other ecosystems, especially upland ecosystems are not included • Some small wetlands, such as vernal pools, are critically important for amphibian breeding and migratory birds

  8. Ecologically-Sensitive Design Process • Know where you are • Avoid sensitive areas • Minimize infrastructure impacts • Mitigate unavoidable losses • Improve ecological function where possible

  9. Basic Principles of Ecological Restoration • Consult with experts • Remove barriers to ecological function • Establish key species to jump-start self-organization • Provide connectivity to existing habitat • Be patient!

  10. Consult with Experts • Ecological restoration is a discipline in its own right • A growing number of specialists around the country have expertise and experience with restoration projects • Including experts on your team can help to ensure success and avoid unintended consequences

  11. Remove Barriers to Ecological Function • Energetic barriers • Altered hydrology • Material barriers • Excessive nutrient inputs • Altered sediment deposition (too much or too little) • Contamination • Species-specific barriers • Noise, light pollution, habitat requirements, connectivity

  12. Install Key Species • Usually, this involves establishing an appropriate plant community • The plant community provides a backbone for the ecosystem, allowing colonization by animals

  13. Provide Connectivity to Existing Habitat • This promotes colonization by species adapted to site conditions as they disperse from adjacent habitats

  14. Using Succession and Self-Organization • It is impossible to physically reconstruct a functioning ecosystem, as you would build a car • Creating appropriate conditions, and providing as much biodiversity as possible will allow the ecosystem to self-organize

  15. Patience • Some ecological processes take place over very long time periods (e.g. topsoil development, peat bog formation) • It may or may not be possible to hurry these processes along to meet human timetables • Once energy and material flows are restored, ecological processes will take over, and will eventually establish a functioning, complex, ecosystem

  16. If you build it, they will come (provided they can get there)

  17. Restoring Hydrology in Streams • Stream geomorphology (the size and shape of the stream bed and banks) is a direct response to the size of storm flows

  18. Morphology of a Stable Stream NEH 653

  19. Morphological Changes Due to Urbanization Disconnection from floodplain Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

  20. Incised Stream Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

  21. Match Morphology to Hydrology • If in-stream structure and meanders are rebuilt without addressing underlying hydrologic issues, there is a strong likelihood that restoration efforts will fail • Restored stream morphology must match the current energy signature

  22. Options to Restore Hydrology BEST OPTION: restore watershed hydrology, then rebuild in-stream physical features Unfortunately, watershed hydrology is the cumulative result of actions on multiple sites, so this is not generally possible in the context of a single infrastructure project

  23. Restoring Stream Hydrology ALTERNATE STRATEGY: • If possible, use floodplain to detain and infiltrate stormwater runoff • Install energy dissipating structures to reduce erosive power of storm flows

  24. Energy Dissipating Structures Rock weirs • Prevent scouring • Dissipate energy • Direct flows away from banks Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

  25. Bank Stabilization • Where flow velocities permit, banks can be stabilized with vegetation • Biodegradable reinforcements can be used while vegetation becomes established • In highly erosive conditions, stone may be necessary

  26. Restoring In-stream Habitat • Tree trunks with root wads can be used to slow and direct flows and provide habitat • Trunks must be firmly anchored in stabilized banks BLM

  27. Reducing Nutrient Inputs • OPTIONS: • Reduce fertilizer application in watershed • Capture and treat runoff close to the source • Capture and treat runoff at the point where it is discharged to the water body (end-of-pipe)

  28. Removing Nutrients Close to the Source • Wastewater Treatment: Tertiary treatment to remove nitrogen and phosphorus • Agriculture: Use vegetated buffers between fields and surface waters • Stormwater: Remove nutrients using Low Impact Development BMPs such as bioretention

  29. End-of-pipe Options • Regenerative stormwater conveyance (RSC) • Constructed wetlands DDOE EPA

  30. Reducing Sedimentation Install erosion control structures, either in-stream or within watershed Live fascines and coir blanket FWS

  31. Restoring Wetland Hydrology • Wetland hydrology is all about flooding depth and frequency • These two parameters must be correct for a wetland restoration project to be successful FWS

  32. The Importance of Wetland Hydrology • Wetland plants are primarily responsible for maintaining wetland structure and function • These plants have very specific hydrologic requirements NRCS

  33. Restoring Sedimentation • Remove dams and levees where possible • Install energy dissipating structures to reduce erosion and promote settling • Install sediment diversion structures • Trucking in sediment is a short-term fix, but may fail in the long run if erosive forces and subsidence are not balanced by ongoing deposition

  34. Sediment Diversion USACE

  35. Lake and Pond Restoration • Lake and pond deterioration is usually a result of excess nutrient loading • In addition to methods previously discussed, nutrients can be removed using • Algal turf scrubbers, and • Floating islands.

  36. Algal Turf Scrubber™ (ATS) • Water is pumped down a chute seeded with filamentous algae • Algae grows, taking up excess nutrients • Algae is harvested periodically, preventing eutrophication related to die-off University of Maryland – NEED PERMISSION

  37. Floating Islands • Floating treatment wetlands • Wetland plants are suspended on floating mats • Remove excess nutrients from the water column Floating Islands International NEED PERMISSION

  38. NW3.4 Maintain Wetland and Surface Water Functions • 3 points: Enhance one ecosystem function • 6 points: Enhance two ecosystem functions • 9 points: Enhance three ecosystem functions • 15 points: Enhance four ecosystem functions • 19 points: Restore full ecosystem function

  39. NW3.4 Maintain Wetland and Surface Water Functions (cont’d) • Enhance hydrologic connections • Reconnect rivers to their floodplains • Restore wetland hydrology • Enhance water quality • Disconnect surface water discharges • Use BMPs to infiltrate runoff • Enhance habitat • Restore riffles, pools, shoreline • Plant appropriate species • Enhance sediment transport • Remove dams and other impediments

  40. Restoring Disturbed Lands • Areas connected to intact habitat will tend to regenerate following disturbance • Natural successional processes may take decades • Invasive and exotic species may need to be controlled

  41. Fire-Dependent Ecosystems • Controlled burns can help to restore fire-dependent ecosystems • Manual removal of underbrush may be an acceptable substitute where burning is infeasible, but some functions of fire are difficult to replicate • Some seeds require high temperatures in order to trigger germination

  42. Soil Restoration • Soils are an essential component of terrestrial ecosystems • Soil restoration involves: • Removal of contaminants • Reversing soil compaction • Increasing soil organic matter • Restoring soil ecological function

  43. NW3.3 Restore Disturbed Soils • 8 points: Restore all soils disturbed during construction in the site’s vegetated area • 10 points: Restore all soils disturbed as a result of previous development

  44. NW3.3 Restore Disturbed Soils (cont’d) • Prior to development, topsoil should be removed and stockpiled • After development, topsoil is replaced on unpaved disturbed areas, and quickly vegetated to minimize erosion • Restoring soils disturbed as a result of previous development may require amending and aerating soils

  45. Repairing Contamination OPTIONS: • Capping • Physical removal (dredging, soil removal) • Bioremediation • Phytoremediation

  46. Bioremediation • Use of bacteria to break down or transform contaminants • Involves creation of environmental conditions conducive to bacterial function • May require bioaugmentation with specialized bacteria or catalysts Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  47. Phytoremediation • Use of plants to bind or break down contaminants • Hyperaccumulatorstranslocate metals from soil into plant tissues, which can be harvested • Hybrid poplars detoxify organic solvents NIH

  48. Reducing Light Pollution • Limit nighttime lighting to only what is necessary for safety • Use lights that cast light downward rather than upward NPS

  49. Reducing Noise Pollution • Plant trees to dampen noise • Construct noise barriers around highways FHWA

  50. Discussion Questions What issues might you encounter if you attempted to restore an abandoned farm to its predevelopment condition?