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Collaborative makes headway in addressing aquatic connectivity regionally, and beyond

Launched in June, the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative is already helping strengthen efforts to restore aquatic connectivity across the region by supporting a network of partners with shared resources.

Over the past six months, major barriers having been coming down for aquatic organisms, and for the people who care about them. Since its establishment in June, the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative has expanded to include more than 50 partners collaborating on aquatic connectivity issues across 14 states simply by getting them all on the same page.

With a central database of regional road-stream crossing infrastructure, standard protocols and trainings for assessments, and web-based tools for prioritizing upgrades, the NAACC provides a collaborative framework for taking on the enormous task of upgrading thousands of bridges and culverts that represent barriers to aquatic connectivity, and threats to human infrastructure and safety. In light of changing precipitation patterns as a result of climate change, it’s an increasingly urgent issue for both people and wildlife.

In 2015, with support from Department of the Interior Hurricane Sandy Resiliency funds, more than 100 Fish and Wildlife Service, state and partner organization staff have been trained in the protocols, and more than 6,2000 road-stream crossings have been assessed, and the results are already having ripple effects on the watershed level.  

In Rhode Island, partners in the Taunton River Watershed Alliance are producing a report to share results from using the NAACC stream-culvert assessments to identify upgrade priorities based on ecological benefits, but a greater goal is to get local community members interested in aquatic connectivity by encouraging them to take a closer look at streams in their own neighborhoods.

In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation is awarding nearly $1 million in grants for partners to work on tributary restoration and barrier removal projects in the Hudson River Estuary watershed based on preliminary assessment work conducted through a collaborative project with the state, the Water Resources Institute at Cornell University, and the Student Conservation Association, using the NAACC protocols and prioritization tools.

Expanding aquatic connectivity to the coast and to the west

Next, the NAACC will be turning its attention to the coast. In October, the North Atlantic LCC Steering Committee approved support for the project cooperators at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to develop and test protocols for assessing connectivity of tidally influenced culverts, based on input provided by representatives from Northeast states and Canadian provinces in a September workshop in Portsmouth, N.H.

Additionally, the North Atlantic and Upper Midwest Great Lakes LCCs will be working together to increase coordination and information sharing across the two regions resulting in learning, improvement and increased efficiency of aquatic connectivity assessments, databases, prioritization and implementation. They are also facilitating planning between partners focused on aquatic connectivity and those focused on increasing resilience of infrastructure to future floods such as transportation and emergency management agencies.

Expected outcomes and products include:

  • Better and more consistent decision tools across state and regional boundaries for prioritizing aquatic connectivity resulting in more efficient and effective use of limited restoration funds

  • Improved connectivity and increased resilience of target species such as Eastern Brook Trout and Lake Sturgeon.

  • Identification of mutually beneficial activities between natural resource and infrastructure sectors and a foundation of information to incorporate infrastructure resilience and projected future floods into decision making.

  • Leveraging of limited funding available for aquatic connectivity/fish passage with more extensive resources associated with transportation and emergency management to achieve connectivity and resilience goals.

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