Friday, October 30, 2009

It should be perfectly fine to prove your restoration works...

I recently was made party to complaints regarding regulating agencies, well, regulating.

In this particular instance, the colleague (doesn't work with me, but is in my industry) was complaining about post-construction monitoring requirements being imposed on in-stream restoration projects. They weren't particularly onerous, just some longitudinal- and cross-sections as well as photo-monitoring, with an annual report for three to five years.

I fail to understand why my colleague was upset that he might have to assure the regulators that his project would do what he said it would do. First, any impact, whether beneficial or adverse, is still an impact, and you need to prove to the agencies that what you're doing is appropriate and feasible and won't cause lasting harm. Second, they quite have the authority to place conditions on permits that they issue in order to assure that the impacts are what they call "minimal." Third, restoration projects fail. Sometimes they fail big, sometimes they fail small. Finally, although I've come across some pencil-pushing dorkbutts, most of the regulators I've worked with are fair, consistent, and very concerned about the overall health of resource that I'm proposing to impact.

My recipe for a succesful application and project:

1. Give your local regulators a well-described and depicted project. What's obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to the harried regulator who has 30+ people clamoring for their permits, so you need to make it obvious in your submittal. Quantify the impacts, the need for the project. What's the land use history of the watershed? Why is the stream impaired? Do you have a reference reach that you're trying to emulate? Give them clear, measurable performance standards for your project and tell them when and for how long you will monitor, and tell them when it will be successful. Most agencies have brochures or checklists for complete applications; use them.

2. Be ready and humble enough for all sorts of questions regarding your design and the need for the project. Prepare for potential changes/post-project fixes in your budget and design.

3. Watch your contractors during construction, and put clear damage/non-performance clauses in your contracts. I've heard of contractors driving up and down a narrow stream looking to see how high the splash would go, for a non-profit's fish habitat restoration. I've also seen j-hooks and vanes installed so high that they impeded boats during lower flows. It's not good when your fish habitat project's poor construction really pisses off the fishermen and the regulators.

4. If you have to change design or structure location during construction, tell the regulators. Call them up or email them, tell them what you need to do, and ask if it's okay to keep the contractor mobilized and supply as-builts after construction. If they say no, give them change drawings and ask for a permit modification, ASAP.

5. Do your post-construction monitoring on time. Don't blow it off. If big things happen in the watershed that affect your project, tell them soon afterwards, and include it in your report.

6. If you see that your structure(s) isn't/aren't working, tell them and propose a fix. Make sure your client is aware that sometimes, structures need tweaking and build that into your budget.

Restoration is not an exact science. There's lots of schools of thought (and lots of arguments, too), and no single prescribed method of conducting restoration. If you're prepared to have an honest, humble dialogue with your regulators and give them the information they need to evaluate your project up-front and after construction, you'll likely have a very successful restoration business.


Chris M said...

It is really sad when comments like this come up from people doing any type of restoration.

If you don't monitor, how do you even know if what you did was successful or it was successful for the correct reasons! Those doing stream restoration should learn from their mistakes to get better. For their own bottom line, thye should be monitoring. It would be like a heart surgeon not bothering to see if their patients died or had complications. This is especially a problem since so many projects have no clear goals (enhance habitat, stop incision, pretty city park?).

If anything, 3-5 years most monitoring is way to little. We know that streams are dynamic and can respond slowly to changes. I would love decades of post project monitoring (it doesn't have to be every year) to really get an idea how these projects last in the long term.

I really like your recipe. I would add to (2), be honest about what is possible to accomplish. If you are restoring a stream in the middle of a city of 3 million people, because of the effected hydrology, chemicals runoff, etc.. it is never going to be some ecology pristine stream. At best it will be aesthetically pleasing to local people, stop incision, perhaps increase peak flow lag time a bit. I have seen to many people claim otherwise only to roll my eyes.

coconino said...

Chris M: I was at the Quivira Coalition Water Symposium today and felt very vindicated when listening to several of the presenters. Post-construction monitoring of clear, measurable metrics was highly touted by most of the folks there who work in the field.

The other significant factor is that, though we're spending $1 billion on in-stream restoration, less than 10% goes to monitoring (as of 2007). The funding agencies can't assess the efficiency of $ spent, and WQ improvements, without measurable monitoring. It just makes sense.