Thursday, July 10, 2014

Responding to Our Changing Shorelines

This week, the habitat restoration team has been at work on projects that will help create resilient shorelines along the Bay. In Warwick, we have been removing pavement at the ends of roads where they dead-end on the shoreline. Many of these roads were damaged during recent storms, or are under water at very high tides. The pavement was located in areas that would otherwise be wetland, and they provide important public access points to the shoreline. We have been able to preserve the public access paths while creating an area for stormwater to infiltrate and for plants to grow. See this article in the Warwick Beacon.

These projects are part of a larger effort for Save The Bay and the Coastal Resources Management Council to adapt to rising sea levels and coastal flooding. As our shorelines retreat, removing infrastructure from harm's way is an important way to save money and protect the public. We are also helping salt marsh to remain and transition to new areas.

Another project has been taking place at King's Park in Newport. This pubic beach has also been eroding as sea level rises, and the park often floods during high tides and storms. Natural erosion control is being created with sand filled coconut fiber envelopes that protect the shoreline. This low-lying area of Newport, near Wellington Avenue often floods when water backs up through the storm drains and into the neighborhoods. This article in Newport This Week helps to explain the project.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Driving Electric

A major shift in personal transportation is coming with the wide availability of electric cars and the promise of the development of autonomous vehicles. Are electric cars only for “early adopters”, or should we all be rushing out to the dealer for test drive? Have you considered buying or leasing an electric car? I am still driving a more than 10-year-old Subaru and am dreaming of something a little more eco-friendly. I would love to go electric, but like many people, I have a number of questions about whether this would be a viable choice for me. I decided to ask Save The Bay’s Facilities Manager, Mike Russo, about his decision to lease a Chevy Volt.

Q: So Mike, why did you choose the Chevy Volt?
A: The Volt is American/Detroit made, and after the recent market collapse, it seemed like a good time to help GM advance the ball. GM has thought out the technology and the Volt was definitely ready for prime time.  (Note: the Volt is powered by an electric motor that is always operating on electrical energy.  Once the battery has exhausted, the power to move the vehicle forward comes from a gasoline engine that generates the electricity to power the motor. This feature had enormous appeal from a practical/engineering perspective). Also, it felt like a good time to be as petroleum-independent as possible, and the Volt's battery "range" of + 40 miles fit my commute so well gas stations are something that are now easy to avoid. 

Q. Did the fact that the Volt has a range extending engine help with this decision? Do you think you could get what you need from a car that was only electric with no back-up?
A. Without many convenient charging stations in RI, at this point in time a range-extending motor/engine combo is critical.  Ultimately, the range of the Volt's lithium batteries and the overall technology will exceed what we are looking at today. Driving a vehicle that seamlessly gets 40 MPG after it goes beyond its electric range makes a lot of sense, and I am willing to be a bit of a guinea pig.

Q. Did you notice a change in your electric range in the very cold weather?
A. During the winter months, the Volt's display, when fully charged, says the vehicle's range is 38 to 40 miles.  That is down considerably from the summer range of + 48 miles. One thing that doesn’t normally come up in conversion is the fact that, in winter conditions, you see the "engine running due to temperature" message come up on the display.  That is on for 20 to 30 seconds every few miles and I presume the Volt's engine is running to keep the vehicle's lithium batteries "happy."  
Q. Is the low cost of operating the car (electricity/vs. gas) a good incentive? Have you ever used a public charging station?
 A. I am new to this type of driving and am still getting used to it.  My normal gas mileage is between 115 MPG (winter) and more than 150 (summer).  Overnight, a normal "full" charge costs approximately $1.00.  That is the cost of recharging the battery that was drawn down about 30 "miles" using only the Volt's electric motor. There are many ChargePoint stations out there, but not that many in RI and I have yet to make use of one. 

Q. What are your favorite things about driving an electric car, and would you recommend it to our members, supporters, and readers of the blog?
A. Hands down, the best part is being able to ignore gas stations. The Volt took some getting used to, but I am all in now. Obviously, there is no "free lunch" here. If we want to move ourselves around, trade-offs are required. The concept of all those individual internal combustion engines, spewing who knows what into the environment, does freak me out a bit.  Not being a part of that is my preference. 

Recommendation-wise, the more the merrier!  If an electric vehicle fits someone's driving "style," they need to find one they can live with for three years. Consider leasing this kind of progressive technology and give it a go. Right now I am generating my own set of numbers and will let them tell me what I can/want to do when this transportation "experiment" is over.  But if you ask me now, my initial impression of this technology is positive as heck and I am looking forward what the future holds!     

Thanks, Mike for sharing your thoughts! I may just take a harder look at this new technology.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One Fish, Two Fish...

Spring has arrived, even if it doesn't feel like it. Increased stream flow and warmer water are triggers for migrating fish that it is time to mate. When they feel the urge, they come back to their home rivers to lay and fertilize their eggs. Right on cue, a river herring was seen on Buckeye Brook in Warwick near the first day of spring. The numbers of river herring returning to Narragansett Bay are extremely low when compared with recent history, as I discussed in my last blog post. While we try to reverse the trend, volunteer fish counts are an important way to keep an accurate estimate of the population size of local fish runs.

Groups of volunteers will be out again this spring to count herring at several locations around Rhode Island. Volunteers spend 10 minutes at a site counting the number of fish that pass upstream. The three largest runs that are monitored by RI DEM are Gilbert Stuart Mill in North Kingstown, Nonquit Pond in Tiverton, and Buckeye Brook in Warwick. At Gilbert Stuart and Nonquit, electronic counters at fish ladders assist DEM in addition to visual counts. Buckeye Brook is one of the few places in the Narragansett Bay watershed where migrating fish are unimpeded by a dam and can swim freely to their spawning area in Warwick Pond. At Buckeye Brook, fish are counted by volunteers at a culvert utilizing a white board that is placed on the stream bed to help see the swimming fish. Last year's count revealed that an estimated 45,244 fish returned to the river, while in 2012, the count was closer to 90,000.

The last several years have brought newly opened fish runs in to focus as well. New fish ladders and a dam removal on the Woonasquatucket River have opened up an historic fish run that will hopefully grow through the years. Counts will begin April 1st at both Rising Sun Mill and Riverside Park in Providence. The Ten Mile River Watershed Alliance will be conducting fish counts at Hunts Mill on the Ten Mile River.

A newly completed fishway project at Kenyon Mill will allow fish access to the entire reach of the Pawcatuck River up to Worden's Pond, and the removal of the Pawtuxet Falls Dam in 2010 has opened up the first seven miles of the Pawcatuck River in Warwick and Cranston. While the volunteers are out mostly counting river herring, several other species migrate to our rivers in the spring including American shad, sea lamprey, white perch, and American eel, which arrive in their juvenile stage to live their adult lives in fresh water.

A video monitoring system will be in use again this year on the Mill River in Taunton to help the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries study recovery of that system. Many species of fish were seen last year including those that migrate within the river, like yellow perch and brook trout. With so many restoration success stories, this is a perfect time to learn more about the sometimes mysterious life cycles of these important fish species.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Remembering Not to Forget

How did we lose sight of the riches our streams and rivers once provided?  Accounts from early European settlers tell of unimaginable numbers of fish filling the rivers during spring spawning runs. There were so many fish that thousands could be caught in a day, and hundreds were placed in fields as fertilizer. Eels were in such large abundance that they were used for everything from horsewhips to hair oil. It’s been estimated that eels once made up one-fourth of all fish biomass in rivers on the Atlantic coast.

In his book, RunningSilver, John Waldman talks of the shifting baselines syndrome where we begin a pattern of forgetting that over the generations shifts our understanding of the true nature of these systems. You can say the same about global warming. As each generation becomes more and more used to a world without snow, we will forget that outdoor ice skating was oncecommonplace in Rhode Island and will believe that ice on Narragansett Bay is an“extraordinary” occurrence.

In the beginning, fish runs were preserved with bypass channels as mills were built, and farmers would come and take dams down by force if necessary. A 1735 Massachusetts law did not allow dams on rivers that would serve as a barrier to fish. This law was generally ignored and as rivers were taken over by human machinery, many mill owners just waited until the fish runs became smaller and smaller to the point where people forgot. They then claimed that fish had never run in the river, and it made no economic sense to restore them. A 1920 state inventory of river herring found that the Mill River in Taunton was so badly polluted by manufacturing waste that restoration of the fishery would be “impossible”.

We began to forget, but the fish did not. The fish persisted and even in the beginning of this century runs of river herring on the Taunton River remained above two million fish. Today, we have removed some obstacles and have restored water quality to a degree, but the fish are not returning. We all speculate on the reasons, and they are many.

Slowly, our public resources were taken over by private interests and now restoration must be done with public money. Many private dam owners are willing to take down their unwanted dams, but not without the help of federal and state agencies who pay most if not all of the cost. Because fish passage restoration is a goal of the government, we are willing to see this happen. State agencies have the duty to protect the public, so they inspect private dams, rather than require owners to do it themselves. How did we get here, and why do we allow these attitudes to persist? It certainly is the tragedy of the commons, but we should not leave it at that. We should reevaluate what a shared resource means for all people and all species, and not forget what we once had, even if we can’t go back in time.