Tag Archives: floods

Restoring Lost Ecological Connections: Fish Ladders and Dam Removal

Growing up in midcoast Maine I was accustomed to celebrating the return of the alewives, an anadromous, or sea-run fish, each spring. Recently a project to restore the fish ladder for the alewives has neared completion in a stream at Damariscotta Mills. The Maine state legislature called for a fish passage in 1741, which led to the town finally building the fish ladder in 1807 to allow the alewives to return to Maine’s streams, ponds and lakes to spawn. The project to rebuild the old fish ladder began 200 years later in 2007 and has entered a final phase in 2012. One challenge for the restoration crew has been to make sure that the fish ladder was functional for the alewives each season. The running of the alewives just occurred in late May/early June.

Meanwhile, another river in Maine supports the run of alewives, salmon, sturgeon and other sea-run fish: the Penobscot, Maine’s largest river. A major component of a restoration project to restore critical habitat in Maine’s largest watershed is underway this week along the Penobscot River. The Great Works Dam on the lower part of the river is being removed this week. See a video of this dam removal (June 11, 2012). This is the culmination of a lot of planning over the past eight years on the part of federal, state and tribal governments, along with nonprofit and for-profit parties.  These have included the State of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Penobscot Nation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation and other partners. Together they form the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. This project began in 1999, but an essential agreement formed in 2004 laid the groundwork for the collaborative restoration efforts. This unprecedented agreement set out to accomplish these things:

  1. Restore self-sustaining populations of native sea-run fish, such as the endangered Atlantic salmon;
  2. Renew opportunities for the Penobscot Nation to exercise sustenance fishing rights;
  3. Create new opportunities for tourism, businesses and communities;
  4. Resolve long-standing disputes and avoid future uncertainties over the regulation of the river.

The agreement further laid out a plan to remove two dams on the lower part of the river, including the Great Works Dam removed this week, and to construct fish bypasses by a third dam and to improve fish passage at four other dams. In 2007, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the project, and added that it would have far-ranging benefits on the Gulf of Maine, protecting endangered species, migratory birds, as well as riverine and estuarine wetlands. It would also enhance recreational activities, such as paddling and fishing and watching wildlife.  The riverine habitat is home to osprey, kingfishers, otters and bald eagles. The project has been widely known as one of the most innovative river restoration projects in the nation.

Some members of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust have made comparisons to the 1999 dam removal on the Kennebec, which was among notable dam removal projects that set a trend throughout the country. The two rivers share some of the same ecological communities. Those involved with monitoring the Kennebec since 1999, have noted a return of more birds, namely osprey and bald eagles, due to the increased number of alewives present, a food source for the birds of prey. “It’s restoring some of the lost ecological connections in the river. First, we’ve seen the rebuilding of the herring run. And now we’ve seen the building of the eagle and osprey populations,” according toAndrew Goode of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The Penobscot River and its tributaries flow through the Maine North Woods to Penobscot Bay, in midcoast Maine. Scientists began collecting baseline data for monitoring wetlands, rare plants, invasive species, geomorphology, water quality, smolt telemetry (tagging and monitoring the actively migrating young salmon), tracking fish movements and fish communities, including sturgeon, salmon and other species, in 2009. See monitoring poster. For more information about the monitoring work with sturgeon,click here.

Dam removal, fish passage and river restoration projects are happening in other parts of the country, too. Trout Unlimited has recently blogged about the legacy of “Making rivers whole again” and what’s considered the largest dam removal project in the country is underway in the Olympic wilderness of Washington state. The Elwha Dam removal project began last fall to restore the Elwha River and ecosystem. It’s managed by theNational Park Service. A recent look at case-studies on dam removal and legislation in the U.S. from an energy perspective was provided in “Exploring the Reasons behind Dam Removal.” In addition, the Connecticut River has become the first National Blueway thanks to the efforts of over 40 local, state and federal government agency and nonprofit and for-profit coalition members. The designation will improve recreational opportunities for boating, canoeing, trail-building and conservation along the river in four states: CT, NH, MA and VT. The idea originated out of President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative. For a snapshot of other ideas in the Great Outdoors initiative, click here.

Updated: April 4, 2013: Blocked Migration: Fish Ladders On U.S. Dams Are Not Effective

Climate Change Takes a Toll on the American Red Cross with Extreme Weather-Related Disasters

In November 2011, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that confirmed a link between extreme weather-related disasters like hurricanes, floods, tsunamis and other storms, to climate change. This was the first time that the IPCC emphasized this link in an official report based on the consensus of over 200 scientists. One of the lead authors of the report is also a director at theRed Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre.  The Red Cross confirmed that the findings of the IPCC reflect what the Red Cross has observed:

‘The Red Cross warned that disaster agencies were already dealing with the effects of climate change in vulnerable countries across the world. “The findings of this report certainly tally with what the Red Cross Movement is seeing, which is a rise in the number of weather-related emergencies around the world,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red  Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre and coordinating lead author of the IPCC report. “We are  committed to responding to disasters whenever and wherever they happen, but we have to  recognize that if the number of disasters continues to increase, the current model we have for responding to them is simply impossible to sustain.”’ – from The Guardian, Nov. 17, 2011http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/17/ipcc-climate-change-extreme-weather

The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre published a related report for policy-makers in light of this new information about extreme weather-related disasters and preparing for climate change. For the Summary for Policy Makers of the new Special Report on Extremes (Nov. 2011), visit: http://www.climatecentre.org/site/news/329/summary-for-policy-makers-of-the-new-special-report-on-extremes-srex

For Strange Wetlands, I sought the first-hand perspective of Allen Crabtree, a volunteer for the Public Affairs division of the American Red Cross. Mr. Crabtree has volunteered with the Red Cross since Katrina. He has identified many human interest stories and interviewed those affected by floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme-weather disasters. In the past year, the Red Cross deployed Mr. Crabtree to cover the stories of Hurricane Irene and related flooding events in Vermont and the Mississippi River floods, and the tornadoes in South Carolina.

Mr. Crabtree arrives on the scene immediately after a hurricane, tornado, flood or forest fire has hit. Often he is deployed “pre-landfall,” before a hurricane has come ashore. It’s his job to get the word out to people –let them know where the Red Cross shelters and other services are located, to help prepare people for a disaster and to contact the media. He’s been known to set his laptop up and report via Skype with a hurricane raging around him. The Red Cross makes use of social media, too, to spread the news—over Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. However, social media can be a way for rumors to spread, for example, when the Mississippi River floods occurred, there was a false rumor posted on Twitter about the Red Cross offering a particular service; but these social media outlets are closely monitored, and rumors are quickly squashed.

Extreme weather-related disasters are expensive and the Red Cross uses footage of the storms, the damage and the people in shelters, to raise funds for their efforts. But Mr. Crabtree’s first love—writing stories—is what drives him to reach out to people. Thinking back on the Mississippi River floods, Mr. Crabtree said, “The sad thing about floods is that they are a slow-moving disaster. When do you evacuate? Afterwards, it makes a slow retreat as the water levels return to normal.” Unlike a tornado with its fast path of destruction, a flood, or even a hurricane, can continue to damage communities and wreak havoc long after the onset of the storm. Mr. Crabtree has written about some of the “success stories” among the Red Cross shelters during the Mississippi River floods and other storms this year, stories, he says, about “people picking themselves up in the face of a lot of impediments. They are a shining example of the resilience of people.” Read Allen Crabtree’s stories here on the Red Cross website via the links below the photo.

Red Cross Reaches Out to Aid Vermont Flood Family (Vermont flood, September 2011)

Red Cross Shelters Residents of Transvale Acres in Flooded Conway, NH (2011)

“What do I do after the flood?” (North Dakota, 2011)

Red Cross is here for the Long Haul(Mississippi River floods, 2011)

Disaster Can Change Someone’s Life in Seconds (North Carolina tornado, 2011)

Video, News Channel 8: Interview with Allen Crabtree on the Joplin tornado (June 2011)

Strong Waters, Stronger Friendships(Missouri floods, 2008)

Chasing Storms – Don’t Try This at Home

Hurricane season is heating up. NOAA’s National Weather Service warned in May that this might be one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record with over 20 named storms.http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/outlooks/hurricane.shtml The bands of warm water moving from the coast of Africa to the Caribbean have meteorologists on the look-out for particularly violent storms. Tropical storm Alex is one of the most recent hurricanes being tracked
http://www.stormpulse.com/hurricane-alex-2010 right now. This means the onslaught of storm surge upon coastal areas. Bring forth the storm chasers!

Although storm chasers have varied backgrounds from journalism to meteorology, they share a passion for studying the phenomenon of storms such as hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, lightning and nor’easters. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/imax/weather.html An “extreme weather journalist” captures the storm on film, while a meteorologist tracks statistics used to predict future storm activity, for example, where and when the next storm will hit and any possible effects on the landscape.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/imax/stormchasers.html Sometimes a storm chaser will do both of those things. Storm chasers are equipped with the gear and knowledge to forecast the unpredictable and go to the hotspots in high winds or other extreme weather conditions. America’s top storm chaser, Warren Faidley earned the nickname, “CycloneCowboy” for his award-winning photographs and coverage of storms. Faidley has chased category 5 hurricanes, monsoonshttp://www.stormchaser.com/ and tornadoes.

Most people think of tornadoes or the movie, Twister, when they hear “storm chaser.” The Discovery Channel’s hit TV show, Storm Chasers, features a number of “chase teams”http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/storm-chasers/ with an emphasis on tornadoes. However, not all storm chasers are among the ‘tornado paparazzi’ — and beware the media’s portrayal of irresponsible and reckless behavior, which can give the profession a bad name. Here are some exciting videos taken by professional storm chasers in hurricanes:http://www.ultimatechase.com/hurricane_video.htm Here’s Jim Edds’ extreme weather coverage website: http://www.extremestorms.com/ with videos here:http://www.youtube.com/photog481 Storm Chasing Mikey covers a nor’easter in Chesapeake Bay http://stormchasingmikey.blogspot.com/ Cyclone Jim’s page is here:http://www.cyclonejim.com/ Also check out Jim Reed’s book, Hurricane Katrina: Through the Eyes of Storm Chasers http://www.amazon.com/Hurricane-Katrina-Through-Storm-Chasers/dp/1560373776

What can storm chasers teach us about wetlands? Storm chasers offer a unique perspective; whereas most people have to flee an area under siege during a hurricane, such as Katrina, storm chasers put themselves in harm’s way to document the event.  Offshore detectors with solar panels and various sensors for tracking water levels and tidal currents are used to assist meteorologists with storm predictionhttp://www.sutron.com/project_solutions/TCOON_project_profile.html and LiDAR data is used to map and analyze coastal storm activity. Storm chasers can offer first-hand accounts to help scientists compare storm surge effects on the landscape and the role of coastal wetlands as protection against storms. A rule of thumb is that each 2.7 miles of marsh knocks down the storm surge by 1 foot.http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/surge_wetlands.asp Here’s an interesting article from Physics Today on the science of storm surges and the role of coastal wetlands, in which the authors suggest new storm surge models that could be useful in a future that includes sea level rise and possible loss of wetlands (Resio and Westerink 2008) http://www.nd.edu/~coast/reports_papers/2008-PHYSICSTODAY-rw.pdf

Chasing storms is dangerous and sometimes life threatening. Let’s leave it to the professionals. There are ways to learn about basic storm principles safely. For classroom activities (geared for science teachers), go to:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/imax/activity.html Everyone else can watch the exciting video footage!