NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution

Giving Communities the Dollars to Restore America’s Rivers

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This is a post by NOAA intern Sarah Idczak.

While recently leading an activity for middle school students, I showed two pictures of streams. In one, a narrow culvert protruded from under a road, the lower edge a foot or so above the stream that it fed. The other picture showed a wide, shady creek strewn with logs running under a bridge.

“If you were a salmon,” I asked them, “which of these streams would you rather swim up?”

Nearly all hands went up for the stream with the bridge.

As an intern with NOAA’s Restoration Center and Office of General Counsel for Natural Resources, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to help review community grant proposals for fish habitat restoration projects. Having helped write a grant proposal to conduct a wind resource study at my university, I was interested in seeing the other side of a grant program, which meant participating in the review and discussion that determines which projects receive funding.

Volunteers plant saltmarsh vegetation.

In 2000, volunteers planted saltmarsh vegetation at Ft. McHenry in Maryland. (NOAA Restoration Center)

Because I have been working at NOAA’s Seattle office, I focused on the grant proposals for Washington state. There were nine proposals from Washington alone this year, and the grant is open nationally, which means only a few excellent projects can be granted funding in each region in a given year.  The Restoration Center’s experienced grant reviewers and I first read through the proposals, paying close attention to budget and design details, as well as the likely impact of the projects. After individually scoring each proposal, the reviewers compared notes and discussed each proposal’s strengths and weaknesses, determining which projects would go on to the next round of deliberations for possible funding.

The Restoration Center, partnering with the American Sportfishing Association’s Fish America Foundation, awards grants to projects that will restore habitat for sport fish species such as salmon and trout. These projects can include removing barriers that prevent fish from migrating upstream to spawn, such as dams and culverts; placing large woody debris in streams to provide fish with places to rest and hide; or planting native vegetation near streams to provide shade.

For example, the Mattole Restoration Council, a community organization in Petrolia, Calif., was awarded a $57,800 Fish America Foundation grant a few years ago to remove a culvert along a tributary of the Mattole River and replace it with a bridge. This project restored one mile of prime steelhead and salmon habitat.

 The Applied Environmental Sciences Site prior to restoration.

The Applied Environmental Sciences Site prior to restoration. Fill material and common reed (Phragmites australis) were removed in 2003 during the shoreline and saltmarsh restoration of Bar Beach Lagoon in New York. (EEA/Laura Schwanof)

Since the partnership began 14 years ago, the Fish America Foundation and NOAA have awarded $6.9 million in grants, resulting in an estimated $23 million worth of restored fish habitat along U.S. coasts, including the Great Lakes. Volunteers play an integral role in these projects, contributing 11,000 hours of labor to the projects funded in 2010 alone.

These funding opportunities are part of the Restoration Center’s Community-Based Restoration Program, which focuses on facilitating and funding hands-on community involvement in habitat restoration. This project is also part of a broader effort throughout many of NOAA’s offices to involve the public in restoring and protecting the natural resources in their communities.

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, which works closely with the Restoration Center to evaluate and restore environmental damages after oil and chemical releases, also reaches out to conservation groups and community members to help rehabilitate degraded habitat. In these cases, the people responsible for the spill are required to fund the restoration projects.

Saltmarsh restoration at the Applied Environmental Sciences site.

The background shows 2003 saltmarsh restoration at the Applied Environmental Sciences site in New York. In the foreground you can see further restoration which North Hempstead, N.Y., continued in 2007. (NOAA/Lisa Rosman)

A legal settlement over the Applied Environmental Sciences Superfund site on Long Island, N.Y., for instance, included funding for a community restoration project that restored an acre of saltmarsh and shoreline near the site. A more recent project reclaimed a stretch of Philadelphia’s waterfront after a 2004 oil spill on the Delaware River.

Through participation in these community restoration projects, people learn the importance of high-quality habitat, gain the knowledge and experience to pick out other potential projects in their communities, and help make restoration more effective and longer lasting. To learn more about restoration projects in your community, take a look at NOAA’s Restoration Atlas.

Sarah IdczakSarah Idczak recently completed a summer internship working jointly with NOAA’s Office of General Counsel Natural Resources Section and NOAA’s Restoration Center. She is a senior at Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, studying environmental policy.

Author: Office of Response and Restoration

The National Ocean Service's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific solutions for marine pollution. A part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), OR&R is a center of expertise in preparing for, evaluating, and responding to threats to coastal environments. These threats could be oil and chemical spills, releases from hazardous waste sites, or marine debris.

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