PEC com­pletes river restoration pro­ject in Rap­pa­han­nock

Rappahannock News - - NEWS • COURTHOUSE ROW -

Re­mov­ing un­nat­u­ral bar­ri­ers and dis­rup­tions is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for con­serv­ing head­wa­ter streams in the Up­per Rap­pa­han­nock River wa­ter­shed. The streams are sources of drink­ing wa­ter for much of the Vir­ginia Pied­mont re­gion and are also home to Vir­ginia’s state fish, the east­ern brook trout, along with a di­ver­sity of other aquatic life.

Pro­tect­ing the stream ecosys­tems pro­vides clean wa­ter for wildlife and res­i­dents alike. Breed­ing pop­u­la­tions of brook trout only sur­vive where there is the cold­est, clean­est wa­ter, which makes them a good species to mon­i­tor for mea­sur­ing over­all stream health.

The Pied­mont En­vi­ron­men­tal Coun­cil (PEC) has taken on the work of restor­ing lo­cal streams by re­mov­ing cul­verts and lowwa­ter cross­ings that can be road­blocks to stream health. Dams and other bar­ri­ers like cul­verts can dis­rupt nat­u­ral stream flow, dis­con­nect fish and wildlife habi­tat, and im­pair wa­ter qual­ity. By re­plac­ing these bar­ri­ers on roads and drive­ways with fish-friendly de­signs, habi­tat and wa­ter qual­ity are im­proved.

Last Fri­day (Sept.

29), PEC cel­e­brated the com­ple­tion of the Spru­cepine Branch restoration pro­ject in Rap­pa­han­nock County with part­ners and lo­cal res­i­dents. The ef­fort was one of the first of its kind in Vir­ginia’s Pied­mont.

“I re­ally ap­plaud the Pied­mont En­vi­ron­men­tal Coun­cil's lead­er­ship and vi­sion in work­ing with other part­ners and pri­vate landown­ers to re­store crit­i­cal na­tive brook trout habi­tat. PEC has been a plea­sure to work with in ev­ery way, and this has been a great pro­ject," said Jim Northup, neigh­bor of Spru­cepine Branch, near Huntly.

Re­cent work at Spru­cepine Branch re­con­nected two miles of stream habi­tat, as a set of cul­verts were re­moved from a pri­vate drive­way and re­placed with a bridge. The pro­ject in­cluded nat­u­ral chan­nel de­sign and con­struc­tion, which was com­pleted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice and Shenan­doah Stream­works.

The work in­cluded re-grad­ing stream banks and in-stream struc­tures that re­stored the nat­u­ral hy­drol­ogy of those streams.

“DGIF as­sisted with pre and post con­struc­tion fish com­mu­nity mon­i­tor­ing on Spru­cepine Branch,” said Mike Isel, a bi­ol­o­gist for the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Game and In­land Fish­eries. “The im­prove­ments that have been made will al­low unim­peded fish pas­sage through­out the creek and help re­con­nect the lower and up­per por­tions of Spru­cepine Branch to ben­e­fit brook trout and other na­tive fish pop­u­la­tions.”

PEC hopes that suc­cess­ful restoration projects — like the work com­pleted at Spru­cepine Branch — will in­flu­ence gov­ern­ment agen­cies to in­cor­po­rate fish-friendly de­signs as they up­date roads and stream cross­ings.

“Most of these cul­verts were put in dur­ing the early 1900s,” said Peter Hu­jik, a field rep­re­sen­ta­tive for PEC. “Many are be­gin­ning to fail and will need to be re­placed within the next five or 10 years, so our ini­tia­tive is timely.”

Ear­lier in 2016, Hu­jik led stream restoration work at Robin­son River, where an over­sized and fail­ing drive­way cul­vert was re­moved, and the river’s nat­u­ral chan­nel was re­stored. Stream health was im­proved by sta­bi­liz­ing 350 feet of stream­bank from ero­sion, ul­ti­mately re­mov­ing sed­i­ment from go­ing down­stream to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. In all, 5.3 miles of aquatic habi­tat were re­stored.

PEC is plan­ning ad­di­tional cul­vert re­moval projects with part­ners over the next sev­eral years. Ef­forts that are cur­rently in the works are lo­cated on Kin­sey Run near Graves Mill, Bolton Branch near Huntly, and Cedar Run at the White Oak Canyon trail head in Shenan­doah Na­tional Park.

PEC is ex­cited to an­nounce that fund­ing to­talling $108,010 has been pro­vided through Na­tional Fish and Wildlife Foun­da­tion’s (NFWF) Small Wa­ter­shed Grant pro­gram for the Bolton Branch Stream Habi­tat Restoration Pro­ject. One of 44 grant re­cip­i­ents, PEC was se­lected by NFWF for the 2017 Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Stew­ard­ship Fund’s grant slate. A to­tal of $3.7 mil­lion dol­lars has been awarded to Vir­ginia com­mu­ni­ties that seek to pro­tect and en­hance the wa­ter qual­ity and habi­tats of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay by help­ing their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties clean up and re­store pol­luted rivers and streams.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pro­vided tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance and fund­ing for both Spru­cepine and Robin­son River, while VDGIF pro­vided pre­and post-fish com­mu­nity mon­i­tor­ing on both projects. Trout Un­lim­ited Rap­i­dan Chap­ter pro­vided fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, as well as a stream tem­per­a­ture study and pro­file on Spru­cepine Branch.

These projects are also sup­ported by the Ohrstrom Foun­da­tion, Nim­ick Forbesway Foun­da­tion, Ethel Cox Mar­den Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion and the Kreb­ser Fund for Rap­pa­han­nock County. In ad­di­tion, landown­ers that helped the ef­fort in­cluded the Beier, Grif­fin, Hen­na­man, Northup, Sut­ton and Vo­gel fam­i­lies.

“What is so ex­cit­ing about this pro­ject is that it can be repli­cated and re­peated. This type of part­ner­ship is an ex­am­ple of how gov­ern­ment agen­cies, landown­ers, char­i­ties and oth­ers can come to­gether and make things hap­pen,” said Chris Miller, pres­i­dent of PEC. “We need to en­cour­age sim­i­lar projects through­out the re­gion so that we can re­store and en­hance wa­ter qual­ity for all the head­wa­ter streams.”


Sev­eral prop­erty own­ers near Huntly and Pied­mont En­vi­ron­men­tal Coun­cil of­fi­cials cel­e­brated the com­ple­tion of a pro­ject that re­moved bar­ri­ers that dis­rupted nat­u­ral stream flow (right). Above from left: landown­ers Jim and Phyl­lis Northup; neigh­bors Bill Pumphrey and Elaine Bow­ers; Larry Mohn, pres­i­dent of Shenan­doah Stream­works; Chris Miller, PEC pres­i­dent; Su­san Wells, direc­tor of Na­tional Fish Pas­sage Pro­gram; Celia Vou­colo, PEC habi­tat and stew­ard­ship spe­cial­ist; and landowner David Grif­fin with his daugh­ter Lau­rel.

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