This Fall issue of the NEP Newsletter covers "Connecting to Nature Makes Us More Caring", "The Importance of Access for Sustainable Tourism in Coastal Alabama", "Coastal Alabama Blueway to Launch in 2015", "Exchange Program Participant from Bangladesh Creating Community with Mobile Bay NEP" and much more.
You can read back issues of the newsletter by visiting our Library of Publications
Second Round of Grants from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund
WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 17, 2014 -- The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced $9.6 million for four Alabama projects that address high-priority conservation needs. The projects, developed in consultation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and federal resource agencies, are designed to remedy harm or reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources that were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The moneys are the second obligation from NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, created 18 months ago as part of the settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice, BP and Transocean to resolve certain criminal charges against both companies in relation to the spill. Under the allocation formula and other provisions contained in the plea agreements, a total of $356 million will be paid into the Gulf Fund over a five-year period for conservation projects in the state of Alabama.
On November 17, 2014, NFWF announced $9.6 million in funding for four projects in the state of Alabama. For details on Alabama's new projects in 2014 please click here.
To date, NFWF has awarded $22.1 million from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund for seven restoration projects in the state of Alabama. These projects were selected for funding following extensive consultation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The Alabama projects address high priority conservation needs. They represent important efforts to protect and enhance natural and living resources, as well as significant planning efforts to develop future projects for consideration under the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.
Click on the project title for more information:
NFWF is engaged in consultation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, FWS and NOAA to identify priority conservation projects for consideration under the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. Reveiw of the 2015 cycle proposals is expected to begin in the spring of 2015.
About the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund
NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund was established in early 2013 as a result of two plea agreements resolving the criminal cases against BP and Transocean after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The agreements direct a total of $2.544 billion to NFWF over a five-year period. The funds are to be used to support projects that remedy harm to natural resources (habitats, species) where there has been injury to, or destruction of, loss of, or loss of use of those resources resulting from the oil spill. Projects are expected to occur within reasonable proximity to where the impacts occurred, as appropriate.
Consistent with the terms of the plea agreements, funding priorities include, but are not limited to, projects that contribute significantly to the following natural resource outcomes:
- Restore and maintain the ecological functions of landscape-scale coastal habitats, including barrier islands, beaches and coastal marshes, and ensure their viability and resilience against existing and future threats;
- Restore and maintain the ecological integrity of priority coastal bays and estuaries; and
- Replenish and protect living resources including oysters, red snapper and other reef fish, Gulf Coast bird populations, sea turtles and marine mammals.
- This list was prepared in collaboration with state and federal resource agencies. For a list of potential actions that might be considered to advance these outcomes, please click here.
Learn more about NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.
The Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund in Alabama
Under the allocation formula and other provisions contained in the plea agreements, $356 million of the total amount to be deposited into the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund will be for project expenditures in the state of Alabama (funded over a five-year period).
Alabama is working to develop and implement to restoration efforts that maximizes the benefit of current and future funding with the overall goal of achieving long-lasting and sustainable environmental benefit for the state and region. Learn more at www.AlabamaCoastalRestoration.org
Maharam Dakua is currently in Mobile, Alabama as part of the U.S. State Department’s Community Solutions Program. For four-months, Maharam, an emerging international leader in civil engineering, is working with American counterparts at Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, collaborating on projects here that will provide skills and ideas for creating lasting change in his home community.
Maharam will be joining an Auburn University team hired by MBNEP to work in the Toulminville area of the Three-Mile Creek Watershed. The project is aimed at developing a model to help Mobile County and city planners make science based decisions related to capital improvement budgets for infrastructure maintenance. His primary role will be to learn about community concerns related to flooding and water pollution and to engage the residents in learning about best practices for managing and reducing water volumes and other sources of pollution. While in the U.S., he will also learn to use computer models as a tool for projecting impacts of stormwater runoff and sea level rise, information that will be helpful in designing infrastructure maintenance programs.
Maharam worked on water resource management and sanitation in both urban and rural areas of Bangladesh as Project Coordinator for his organization. He has conducted research and managed sustainable water distribution projects with limited resources, especially for low-income people. He also worked as a facilitator in training programs on rainwater harvesting and water safety plans for academicians, sector professionals and students in Bangladesh.
Started in 2010, the Community Solutions Program is a professional development program for global community leaders working in the fields of transparency and accountability, tolerance and conflict resolution, environmental issues, and women and gender issues. During their fellowships, the emerging leaders spend up to 400 hours learning leadership and organizational skills through training courses and more than 600 hours at their U.S. host organizations. The fellows also design community development projects that they implement upon returning to their home countries.
The State Department partners with IREX to identify and place engaged leaders who are committed to the ideal that individual efforts can fight poverty and discrimination, correct inequalities, cultivate peace, and develop new approaches to environmental issues. “Maharam arrived with his sleeves rolled up- ready to learn, get into the field, and make a difference. He immediately became a part of the MBNEP team and we look forward to working with him to continue the excitement surrounding the restoration of Three Mile Creek,“ commented Roberta Swann, Director.
The final CCMP has been released and is now available online or in print. You can download the complete CCMP and Appendices by clicking here or you can purchase a printed copy for $30.00. If you would like to purchase a printed copy please mail request and payment to:
Mobile Bay National Estuary Program
118 N. Royal St., Suite 601
Mobile, AL 36602.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold its second annual SepticSmart Week September 22-26. SepticSmart Week outreach activities encourage homeowners and communities to care for and maintain their septic systems. Nearly one-quarter of all American households depend on septic systems to treat their wastewater.
Failure to maintain septic system can lead to back-ups and overflows that pollute local waterways, create dead zones, raise water treatment costs and endanger human health. Pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and fecal bacteria can enter ground and surface waters from septic systems. Such pollutants affect drinking water, lakes, rivers and estuaries. The algal blooms they may generate can produce toxins harmful to human, animals and marine life.
Data collected by states attribute septic systems and other onsite wastewater treatment methods to water quality impairments in 22,909 miles of rivers and streams; 199,995 acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds; and 72,320 acres of wetlands. By properly maintaining their septic systems, homeowners can help reduce these numbers.
“When homeowners protect their septic systems, it’s good for their health, their neighbors’ health, and their pocketbooks,” said Ken Kopocis, Deputy Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. “Not only is EPA directly educating homeowners on septic maintenance, but we are also coordinating with states and municipalities to do the same.”
During SepticSmart Week, EPA will provide homeowners with tips for septic maintenance, including:
• Protect It and Inspect It:
• Think at the Sink:
• Don’t Overload the Commode:
• Don’t Strain Your Drain:
• Shield Your Field:
EPA’s SepticSmart program educates homeowners about proper septic system care and maintenance all year long. In addition, it serves as an online resource for industry practitioners, local governments and community organizations, providing access to tools to educate clients and residents.
For more information, visit: www.epa.gov/septicsmart
Thank you to the 241 volunteers who helped clean roughly three miles of shoreline on and along Mobile's Western Shore. The day was beautiful for the 27th Annual Alabama Coastal Cleanup where people of all ages gathered at McNally Park off Dauphin Island Parkway. Early estimates show these clean water heroes removed 1,286 pounds of litter from in and around Mobile Bay and nearby Perch Creek, a tributary to Dog River. Thanks again to these 241 volunteers! With you, we will "Create a Clean Water Future" for Mobile!
Acting on the perception that they perform better for longer, most property owners in the United States choose hard engineered structures, such as bulkheads or riprap revetments, to protect estuarine shorelines from erosion. Less intrusive alternatives, specifically marsh plantings with and without sills, have the potential to better sustain marsh habitat and support its ecosystem services, yet their shoreline protection capabilities during storms have not been evaluated. In this study, the performances of alternative shoreline protection approaches during Hurricane Irene (Category 1 storm) were compared by 1) classifying resultant damage to shorelines with different types of shoreline protection in three NC coastal regions after Irene; and 2) quantifying shoreline erosion at marshes with and without sills in one NC region by using repeated measurements of marsh surface elevation and marsh vegetation stem density before and after Irene. In the central Outer Banks, NC, where the strongest sustained winds blew across the longest fetch; Irene damaged 76% of bulkheads surveyed, while no damage to other shoreline protection options was detected. Across marsh sites within 25 km of its landfall, Hurricane Irene had no effect on marsh surface elevations behind sills or long marsh shorelines without sills. Although Irene temporarily reduced marsh vegetation density at sites with and without sills, vegetation recovered to pre-hurricane levels within a year. Storm responses suggest that marshes with and without sills are more durable and may protect shorelines from erosion better than the bulkheads in a Category 1 storm. This study is the first to provide data on the shoreline protection capabilities of marshes with and without sills relative to bulkheads during a substantial storm event, and to articulate a research framework to assist in the development of comprehensive policies for climate change adaptation and sustainable management of estuarine shorelines and resources in U.S. and globally.
In June 2014, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (NEP), Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), and a number of other partners completed the Alabama and Mobile Bay Basin Integrated Assessment of Watershed Health, a statewide and basin-wide report on the status and vulnerability of watershed health. The assessment, supported by EPA’s Healthy Watersheds Program, integrates the best available data from state and federal agencies to characterize relative landscape condition, watershed health, and watershed vulnerability to climate change, land use change, and water use. Recognizing the health of Mobile Bay is governed in part by the health of the waters it drains, the assessment team conducted an analysis of hydrologic connectivity between headwaters within Mobile Bay basin to the estuary itself. The watershed health, vulnerability, and connectivity assessment results are intended to help guide Alabama’s and Mobile Bay NEP’s efforts to protect their healthy watersheds and to enhance the condition of Mobile Bay so that the public can continue to enjoy the many benefits and services their waters provide.
William Rabb, special to E&E
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- While some coastal property owners recoil at the idea of anything marring their view of the water, many are coming to a stark realization: "Living shorelines" -- with native grasses and rock or oyster-reef breakwaters -- may be the only option left for countering rising seas and eroding shoreline.
"It's either do this or lose our property altogether," said John Blackwell of Pensacola, who has seen almost 20 feet of his bayou-front land wash away in just four years.
Living shorelines, once considered a quaint notion espoused by a few environmental groups, are quietly gaining in popularity as the benefits and the science become more accepted. Sea walls, also known as bulkheads, are still widespread, but more and more policymakers and homeowners now agree that hardening the shore is more expensive, is futile against rising tides, can destroy marine habitat and can exacerbate erosion on adjacent properties.
"One argument is that people should just move away from the shore altogether," said Bill Sapp, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "But there doesn't seem to be much political will to force that, so we have to take the steps we can to maintain the shore we have left."
South Alabama and northwest Florida were long considered the spiritual home of the bulkhead, and all the problems that go with that. A recent report by the SELC shows that more than 40 percent of the shoreline around sprawling Mobile Bay, Ala., is armored with sea walls or other structures. At Deadman's Island in Gulf Breeze, Fla., coffins buried after yellow fever epidemics in the 1800s were exposed in the last decade as the shoreline eroded, due in large part to extensive bulkheads built all around the shore, said Heather Reed, project manager for a restoration project there.
But in the last five years, the number of natural shoreline permits has tripled or even quadrupled in Alabama and northwest Florida, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which must review most coastal construction work.
Living shorelines use marine grasses to hold sand and oyster-shell beds, porous concrete structures or mounds of rock as breakwaters to trip waves before they roar across the waterfront. Such shorelines cost less than sea walls and can adapt to rising water levels, say shoreline-restoration advocates.
As the water rises over time, the grasses trap more sand, building up the shore naturally. Natural shores also provide crucial habitat for marine life, which helps local fishermen, Sapp said.
Some waterfront residents have vehemently opposed living shores, in part because of climate change denial and in part because of the view.
Structured breakwaters, in particular, have been controversial because most rise above the water line. One coastal Alabama town recently rejected a federal grant that would have helped mitigate shoreline erosion, largely because council members thought the breakwaters would be "an eyesore" (see related story).
Getting the hydrology and ecology right for a successful living shoreline can be tricky. The work can take years to prove successful and may require significant revision and maintenance.
"The science is still evolving, but it has gotten a foothold in the last couple of years," said Doug Fry, head of the Submerged Lands and Environmental Resources Coordination Program at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
In some states, permitting for such projects is still a tangled mess of local, state and federal regulations. North Carolina, for example, has banned most hardened structures on ocean-side shorelines. But on inlets and bays, sea walls still get approved in days, while living shorelines can drag on for months, according to the North Carolina Coastal Federation. In Florida, a state agency has bragged about how quickly it approves bulkhead permits, often in less than two weeks, records show.
And in most restoration projects, the Army Corps has to review the work before granting a permit. That process can take as much as 16 weeks for a living shoreline, often because other federal agencies must also scrutinize the project's impact on threatened species and habitat.
On the other hand, the Army Corps will often approve a sea wall quickly, because it technically doesn't affect navigation or involve habitat restoration, said Reed, who's overseeing the Deadman's Island project and runs a shoreline restoration consulting company.
The permitting process is evolving, though, if only in fits and starts.
Starting last fall, Florida no longer requires permits for most projects covering less than 500 linear feet of shore, a big leap from the previous threshold of 150 feet. But the change wasn't widely reported, and almost a year later, restoration groups and property owners said they weren't aware of it. And the state rules still require that the work be kept within 10 feet of the mean high-water line, a restriction that can limit the success of some projects.
"It really needs to be 15 or 20 feet," said Patrice Couch, director of St. Andrew Bay Watch in Panama City, Fla., which last month enlisted 30 volunteers to plant marsh grass and build four living shorelines at the behest of property owners.
In Alabama, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Mobile Baykeepers, the Nature Conservancy and others worked closely with the Coast Guard, Army Corps and state agencies in 2011 to produce a streamlined general permit for living shorelines. The average review time has dropped from 120 days to about 60, said the corps' Lisa Parker.
The corps' Northern Florida region, which is headquartered in Jacksonville and covers all of the Florida Panhandle, also is developing an expedited permit that could cut living shore permit wait times to as little as 30 days, said Cliff Payne, section chief for the corps. The new permit process should be unveiled by next spring.
In North Carolina, the state agency is in the process of relaxing its permitting process, but at least one coastal district of the corps still provides a regulatory disincentive for natural solutions, according to the Coastal Federation, which is working to change that.
Weighing options for change
For some coastal areas, age-old street plans can add yet another layer of complexity. In Pensacola, a street was platted along the edge of a bayou but was never paved, so the waterfront property is actually the county right of way. A group of homeowners said they had to wait two years just to get county authorities to allow them to proceed with applications to plant native grasses and build oyster-shell breakwaters.
"I don't care if the county owns it or if I own it, I just want to protect the shore," said Blackwell. His suggestion: a countywide master plan that would provide a step-by-step process to protect shorelines in all situations.
One group in Florida hopes to take it a step further and establish a program that would provide state and federal funding for 75 percent of the cost of shore restoration, with the property owner paying 25 percent.
The idea is modeled on the heralded Rebuild Northwest Florida program that provides hurricane fortification for homeowners and cuts insurance premiums significantly. Another idea is for local communities to require their own permits -- and charge much more for bulkheads.
A critical next step is to educate the contractors who install bulkheads, supporters say.
"It makes more sense if a contractor can go to the property owner and say, 'There are two different ways we can do this: a bulkhead, or for less money, a living shoreline,'" Sapp said.