Water quality: Leave it better than you found it

Aug - 31

Water quality: Leave it better than you found it

For any environmentalist, the idea is to leave the land better than you found it, wherever you are. For Environmental Scientists, our work is to contribute to better design, safer construction, and a healthier ecosystem.

Often projects call on Environmental Scientists and Engineers to protect waterways and wetlands. It is important that any job site takes necessary- and required- steps to provide sediment and erosion control (which would be a Storm Water Prevention Plan). But further, we look to protect and even improve habitats and landscape. 

A recent job had us looking for clues and data to support a road rehabilitation. This road traversed state wetlands- spanning NYSDEC Class C streams, sitting in the middle of one NYSDEC freshwater wetland checkzone and next to another. A little digging through the right database showed us, too, that federal wetlands were close by- a major consideration for protected and endangered species.

In this case, we worked with the designers to develop and present an option minimizing impacts to below the ordinary high water mark (OHWM) of the stream/ditch.  The design proposed and presented to the regulatory agencies included spanning the stream/ditch using sheet pile walls capped with concrete. This eliminated risk of impact to the stream/ditch below the ordinary high water mark. In the end, what was best for the waterways was more engineering than perhaps anticipated. We recommended to the designers that the solution was to realign the section of stream directly impacted by the construction. About 200 feet of the side stream ditch, if slightly rerouted, would maintain the ideal 1:3 road side slope- minimizing erosion and soil loss, preserving water flow and quality.  Ecological benefits of ditch realignment included adding sinuosity to a normally straight stream/ditch thus improving the habitat for aquatic organisms.  Additionally, the overland distance between the stream and the adjacent wetland would be reduced, thus reducing the distance semiaquatic organisms would need to traverse when migrating from one water body to another, potentially reducing the impacts of predators.

The work of the environmental team serves all interests on wetland projects- such as conserving construction materials and defining project scopes, saving time and money. But, ask anyone of us and we’ll likely tell you- we work to make sure these natural resources are better off when the work is done.