Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Going Solar

Recently, my husband and I decided to install a solar thermal hot water system at our house in Providence. Despite the loss of a state tax credit, we went ahead with a grant from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation’s Renewable Energy Fund for a similar 25% off the cost of the system. We will also receive a federal tax rebate of 30% off the rest. In order to qualify for the grant program, we needed to have done an energy audit through National Grid. We had done the audit last year, and had already installed additional attic insulation through that program. For anyone who has not gone through an energy audit, it is well worth the effort. We were able to cover the cost of insulating our attic and sealing our entry doors.

This year’s Renewable Energy Fund grant program was for small scale solar projects, and was given to solar installers and community development groups that bundled individual projects. Eight separate groups were awarded funding for 89 residential projects. Our project was done by Island Solar and was bundled with 16 others. Residential solar is gaining in popularity across the country, and incentives are helping increase that growth. With solar panel prices falling and financing available through leases and other agreements, the economics are favoring these small scale projects. Solar in general is proving to be easier to permit and install than wind, and in Massachusetts, for example, solar projects outnumber wind projects by 3 to 1. In total, over 4,000 residential solar projects have been installed in Massachusetts, and installed solar capacity is already over 200 megawatts.

While Massachusetts has strong incentives through tax rebates and rate based programs, Rhode Island ranks last in the Northeast in renewable energy projects.  Efforts to pass bills in the legislature this past session to reinstate the RI renewable energy tax credit were unsuccessful. Representative Deb Ruggerio said that the state spent about $155,000 a year while we had a tax credit which generated over $1 million a year in economic activity for solar installers. Rhode Island has increased larger solar projects with its new distributed generation program.

Rhode Island has some work to do, but I believe that a solar panel on the roof will soon become commonplace. Several communities in California are already requiring all new houses to be built with roof top solar as a standard practice. For me the decision to go solar was about cutting down on my natural gas use and all the baggage that comes with it. Saving money and increasing the value of my house are also good things, as is supporting the effort to change perceptions about renewable energy. We as homeowners have it within our power to change the economics of the energy industry. I am looking forward to seeing the shut down of coal fired power plants like Brayton Point, and hopefully someday soon, the Pilgrim nuclear plant. Let the sun shine!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Stillhouse Cove in Cranston gets an Adaptive Makeover

In case you missed it, last week was National Estuaries Week. We kicked off the week with our annual Beach Slam at Goddard Memorial State Park, and continued with the christening of our new education vessel the Elizabeth Morris. The habitat restoration staff was also in full swing with a project at Stillhouse Cove in Cranston. This small park north of Pawtuxet Village is the site of one of our recent salt marsh restoration projects were we cleared tidal creeks to allow fresh water to drain from the upper marsh.

This most recent project helps to address erosion issues at the upland edge of the marsh where it meets the bluff. Wave action and storm damage had caused the bluff to become eroded and undercut, threatening the loss of portions of the park. The steep bluff was graded to a more dissipated slope, and soil lifts or "burritos" as they are sometimes called, were installed to support the bank and new vegetation.

This project was part of our work to identify opportunities to protect shorelines naturally and help create a more resilient coastline. As sea level rises, it will be important to create places where wave energy can be dissipated and where shorelines can adapt to changes. The newly graded area will be planted and will support habitat values while protecting the shoreline.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Whittenton Dam Removal on the Mill River

Another dam has gone from the Mill River in Taunton, leaving the Reed & Barton dam as the only impediment to fish passage on the river. A new fish ladder has been constructed at Lake Sabbatia which will allow fish access to over 30 miles of habitat in the upper watershed. This dam is special because it was the catalyst for much of the recent discussion of dam safety, dam removal and floodplain restoration in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Our efforts in Rhode Island to have better disclosure of dam safety and increased dam inspections have come from our experience in Taunton. You can see much more about the project on the Mill River Restoration blog.

This recent coverage of the project from ABC6 news also shows the history of this dam and the importance of the restoration. The dam came out relatively quickly this week, and the entire project should be completed by September. Next year's removal of the Reed & Barton dam will see the project come full circle and will allow fish full access to the entire river corridor.

Removal of the Hopewell Mill dam last August was very successful and the river is beginning to take shape.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kenyon Mill Fish Passage

The Kenyon Mill fish passage project on the Pawcatuck River is getting underway this month, and will be complete by the end of the year. This project is the last in a series of three projects on the upper Pawcatuck River that will ultimately restore passage for fish up to Worden's Pond. The Shannock Falls dam was removed in 2010, and the Horseshoe Falls dam in Shannock Village had a fish ladder constructed in 2011.
This fish ladder also has an eelway that will assist young American eels with their ascent over this dam.

Together, these projects will open up access to 10 miles of river and 1,300 acres of additional habitat. The Kenyon Mill project involves the removal of an old dam and the creation of rock weirs that will allow fish to swim over the obstruction but will maintain water levels for fire suppression. Kenyon Industries is an active manufacturer on the river, and relies on the water supply.

The project will start with removal of the original structure and then creation of the rock weirs. These projects are an important part of habitat restoration in the Wood-Pawcatuck River watershed, which provides rare and pristine habitats and supports many different species of wildlife. Project partners include the NOAA Restoration Center, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Town of Richmond, RI CRMC and RI DEM. Partial funding came from the ARRA federal stimulus package. Save The Bay supported this project through our partnership with Restore America's Estuaries and NOAA. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Celebrating the Roger Williams Park Restoration Project

Community members and project partners gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony today near Roosevelt Lake in Roger Williams Park. The gathering celebrated the completion of the first stormwater projects in the park, and the establishment of a walking trail behind the carousel. Volunteers who helped plant the rain gardens were given citations from the Mayor, and Governor was on hand to help cut the ribbon.

We all know of Roger Williams Park in Providence as that urban gem that hosts the zoo, the carousel and botanical garden, as well as the seven man-made ponds that meander through the watershed. The ponds in the park were constructed in the 1880’s and 1890’s, at the southern end of the growing city. At that time, the population of the city was smaller and development less dense. As development grew in the neighborhoods surrounding the park, stormwater was directed to the park ponds. Park roads and parking lots also drained directly to the ponds.

If you ever visited the park on a nice weekend, you know that a favorite activity has been feeding the geese. These geese grew in number and became very unhealthy as they relied more and more on human “junk food”. Despite efforts to curb their numbers and to instruct visitors not to feed the geese, their waste has been very bad for water quality. This source of nutrients is added to the additional impacts from road and other surface runoff, resulting in algae blooms that close the ponds to recreation.

The Roger Williams Park Restoration project has begun to change this situation. Engineers examined the park for areas where stormwater could be intercepted before reaching the ponds. About 30 spots were investigated, and five sites were chosen for retrofit projects. Other suggested actions include removal of curbing along park roads and disconnecting building downspouts.  Save The Bay has helped to organize volunteers for planting in the new raingardens located at three sites along the ponds. A group from Amgen helped out during the City’s Earth Day event, and planting has continued through the spring. A master plan for the park restoration will provide a list of other ideas to continue work, and a new group, the Roger Williams Park Conservancy, is being formed to take on the restoration effort. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Get Ready for the Strawberry Moon at Perigee

If you head to the beach this weekend, you might just get a little bit more space for your blanket in the middle of the day. If you go at night, however, you should be ready for a very high tide. Every month during the full moon, the moon, earth and sun are aligned with the earth in between. The high tide that results from this line-up is called a spring tide. Spring tides also occur on the new moon when the earth, moon and sun are aligned with the moon in the middle. At the half moon, we have what is called a neap tide. These tides are the smallest of the month because the gravitational pull of the sun and moon are in opposition.

We also need to keep in mind that the moon’s 28 day orbit around the earth is not round, but is elliptical. The distance between the moon and earth varies throughout the month and this cycle does not correspond with the spring –neap cycle. When the moon is closest to the earth, it is said to be at perigee, and when it is farthest away, it is at apogee. Perigee often coincides with spring tides on the equinox, but not always. This year, a spring perigee full moon falls on the summer solstice. This is the moon’s closest approach to the earth for all of 2013, and it coincides with what is already a time of very high tides. Saturday's high tide will be at 7:45 PM.

This photograph from the parking lot at the Watch Hill Yacht Club shows what many Rhode Islanders who live in low-lying coastal areas are already noticing. High tides are impacting their neighborhoods more and more each year. Save The Bay has had a team of volunteer photographers out documenting these changes for a few years, and we continually see roads, parking lots, lawns and parks under water at spring high tides. These photographs are a good way to show what a future with sea level rise will look like, and where we need to concentrate our efforts at adapting to more water. Sea level rise is here to stay, and is becoming  more noticeable every year. We will have photographers out this weekend too, to catch the 2013's highest predicted tides. You can see some our high tide photos on our Flickr page.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Amazing Freshwater Eel

Globally, there are 16 species of freshwater eel, and they spawn in each of the world’s oceans. The freshwater eel is what we call a catadromous fish, a fish that spends its life in rivers and streams, eventually returning to the sea to spawn and die. This lifecycle is the opposite of anadromous fish, like the familiar river herring which travels up rivers to reproduce and return to the ocean. It is believed that the American eel, Rhode Island’s resident species, spawns in the Sargasso Sea, although no one has ever witnessed this event. In fact, very little is known about this mysterious animal. A PBS Nature documentary was aired last week and provides a fascinating look at these fish.

Populations of eel around the world are at an all-time low, due to the prevalence of dams on our rivers, mortality in hydro turbines, overfishing, and many other environmental challenges. Glass eels and elvers, the tiny young eels that return to rivers in the spring, are currently harvested in Maine and South Carolina. The huge price paid for these eels has made poaching a problem, and has made those who can legally fish for them rich. The elvers, no bigger than your little finger, are sold to fish farms in China and Japan where they are raised to adulthood and sold. Japan alone consumes 130,000 tons of eel each year. This photo, taken by Tim Watts, shows a congregation of elvers at the first dam on the Weweantic River in Massachusetts.

American eel have been minimally managed as a fishery in the United States. An adult female can lay up to 4 million eggs which develop through several life stages and drift slowly back toward coastal rivers. There are few restrictions on commercial harvest of adult eels other than a six inch size restriction, and the recreational limit is 50 eels per day per person with a six inch size limit. A limited elver fishery is still open.

There are many proposed recommendations to help the American eel, including seasonal closures, prohibiting traps and eel pots by recreational fishermen, closing the elver fishery and habitat protections such as dam removal.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has developed an Interstate Fishery Management Plan and has written several addenda to this plan. They are currently holding hearings in Atlantic coast states to gather public comment on Draft Addendum III. The plan proposes increased monitoring by the states and recommendations to improve American eel habitat, as well as recommendations to reduce mortality. Comments are due May 2nd. To comment, click on American Eel under Managed Species on their website.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spring fish runs are off to a great start

The annual fish run is off to a great start this spring, and fish are being monitored by volunteers throughout the watershed. On the Ten Mile River, over two thousand fish had been netted by this week and lifted over the dam at Omega Pond. A fish count is being conducted this year at Hunts Mill where the fish ladder is now complete.

Fish are also being lifted over the Saugatucket River dam on Main Street in Wakefield. This site has a poorly designed fish ladder, and fish often get caught below the dam. DEM uses this spot to fill their truck and bring fish to both Indian Lake, which is the headwaters of the Saugatucket River, and to Worden's Pond, the headwaters of the Pawcatuck River. Fish will be able to use a new ladder at Horseshoe Falls on the Pawcatuck this year, and with the addition of a fishway at Kenyon Mill, by next year they will be able to reach Worden's Pond.

On the Mill River in Taunton, fish have been spotted above the Hopewell Mills dam for the first time in over 200 years. This dam was removed last fall and is the first in a series of three dam removals on the Mill River. Because this is a large restoration project, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has installed a video monitoring station on the river to better understand the population of this run and what fish are using the river. This bar rack directs the fish past the video monitor. It is apparent now that there has been a small surviving run of fish, because several hundred herring have been counted, as have many yellow perch and white suckers which also migrate upstream to spawn. We are very excited to see the fish return to the Bay, and love to get reports from dedicated volunteers and partners who work hard on river restoration projects.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Join Earth Hour on March 23rd

The seventh annual Earth Hour is happening tomorrow, Saturday March 23rd at 8:30 PM. Close to 100 landmarks including Russia's Kremlin and Red Square, Australia's Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis, Big Ben, and the Las Vegas Strip will shut their lights and go dark for one hour to symbolize a commitment to protect the planet.

The first Earth Hour was celebrated in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and it soon grew into a world-wide event. In 2008, 35 countries participated, and now the number is close to 150. The movement has gone beyond the hour, to encompass a campaign called "I Will if You Will", where governments and individuals make pledges and challenges for direct action to protect the planet. For example the former president of Botswana is leading an effort to plant one million trees, with 100,000 already planted.

You can accept a challenge or create your own at their website, and view videos and other content, and follow the action live. So, get ready to turn out your lights for one hour and join the movement.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Planning a Rain Garden? There's an App for That

Are you dreaming of spring? Here at Save The Bay, we are looking forward to getting back out in the field and helping folks plan and plant rain gardens all around the watershed. Just in time, the Connecticut NEMO program (also known as Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials) has a great new app available at the Apple app store for planning rain gardens. The app helps you determine your soil type, the size of garden you will need, and the best plants for your location. It includes videos, diagrams and plant lists to help you along the way.

This week also kicks off the Rhode Island Spring Flower and Garden Show at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Save The Bay will have educational material, so stop by and get a copy of the Bay Friendly Backyards Shopping List. You can also download a copy of Bay Friendly Backyards on our website! Happy planning and happy planting.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A good New Year for Massachusetts dam safety

The Massachusetts legislature has approved a bill that will strengthen dam safety and provide a new loan fund to help remove and repair dams and coastal infrastructure. The bill has been in the works for many years and has taken several forms. This newest incarnation had the added strength of including structures like seawalls in the $17 million loan fund.

The bill strengthens dam safety by requiring that emergency action plans be written for high and significant hazard dams. It also raises the fines that the Department of Conservation and Recreation can collect from owners whose dams are in violation of dam safety regulations. Another provision allows towns to bond for dam removal projects.

Rhode Island has similar rules about emergency action plans for high hazard dams, but many towns are in violation of this regulation and the Department of Emergency Management has no authority to enforce this portion of the law. In 2011, the Rhode Island legislature did include dam removal as an activity that towns can bond for using the authority of the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency.

Advocates in Rhode Island are interested in developing some type of funding mechanism for the repair and removal of dams, and Save The Bay has worked on legislation for the last two sessions that would require dam owners to inspect their own dams. This has been a rule for several years in Massachusetts. We will continue to make this a priority in the next legislative session.