Going with the Flow

The humble road culvert is the centerpiece of a region-wide effort to help fish and wildlife and protect communities in the Northeast.

The critical role of culverts — essentially big pipes or concrete boxes carrying streams beneath roads—was demonstrated dramatically in a series of powerful storms hitting the Northeast in recent years. In 2011, intense and sustained rain from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee washed out roads throughout mountains of New York and New England as culverts running under those roads were not designed to handle such enormous volumes of water.  Flooding from Hurricane Sandy, which lashed the Northeast coast and adjacent inland areas in October 2012, caused additional damage.

Fish-friendly culverts provide ample room for passage and reduce the likelihood of damage to road stream crossings from future floods.

Fish-friendly culverts also can help reduce the likelihood of damage to road stream crossings from future floods.

The widespread effects of these storms – which scientists say will become a more frequent calling card of climate change – underscore the need for science that can help local, state, and federal partners throughout the region prioritize and increase the resiliency of roads to floods.

To meet this need, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working through the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative to coordinate and support a collaborative, region-wide effort to restore fish passage while reducing the likelihood of damage to  road stream crossings from future floods. The project is supported by $1.27 million in Hurricane Sandy mitigation funds from the Department of the Interior.

Improving the resiliency of roads has multiple benefits beyond protecting human health, safety, and property. Upgrading, repairing or replacing culverts can also increase connectivity and movement of fish and wildlife. This addresses a critical problem because aquatic systems in the Northeast are extremely fragmented by undersized or damaged road culverts that restrict passage for fish, other aquatic organisms and wildlife. Beyond their in-stream benefits, fish-friendly culverts also help sustain nearby wetlands and floodplains while they nourish coastal beaches with sediment. It’s a bang-for-the-buck conservation investment that can pay big dividends for wildlife and people.

The culvert project underscores a key role of the North Atlantic LCC in bringing the Northeast conservation community together to address priority science needs and inform conservation decisions in the face of change and uncertainty. The project will compile information on locations and condition assessments of road stream crossings based on existing data and models; support additional surveys of road stream crossings; predict future storm discharge levels; and assess risk and prioritize crossing improvements.  The resulting regionally-consistent data on stream crossing locations and future flood conditions will help towns, states and communities manage future intense storms and improve conditions for aquatic organisms.  The USFWS Fisheries Program will help facilitate the effort with the LCC guided by partners and users from the conservation, transportation, and state and municipal planning sectors.

The project will take place over three years in coastal watersheds in New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia. Partners include USFWS, the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service. In addition to the DOI funding, North Atlantic LCC partners are contributing $150,000 in matching funds to expand the project to include additional Northeast states.

Click here to view additional details on the project and participating partners.

1 thought on “Going with the Flow

  1. Pingback: Sedimentary, My Dear Watson: Saving Salt Marsh after Hurricane Sandy | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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