About the Project
Coastal Impoundment Vulnerability and Resilience Project
If you have ever birded at Parker River NWR, Forsythe NWR (Brigantine), Bombay Hook NWR or almost any east coast wildlife refuge, then you probably know the value of coastal impoundments. These man-made water bodies are contained by embankments and have gates that allow managers to manipulate water levels. They are often drained in the spring to expose mudflats for migrating shorebirds, and then raised in fall to provide open water for ducks and other waterbirds through the winter. Their value to birds is apparent to anyone who has watched tens of thousands of shorebirds roosting and feeding in the impoundments of Heislerville WMA in southern New Jersey, or to the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to the wildlife drives and trails at Brigantine, Heinz and Jamaica Bay wildlife refuges.Superstorm Sandy was a powerful reminder that, in addition to being valuable, these structures are also vulnerable. Damaging and expensive breaches to embankments occurred at numerous impoundments in the path of the storm, including Forsythe NWR, Heislerville WMA, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, and Tuckahoe WMA. Impoundments at other sites, including Heinz NWR in Philadelphia, DeKorte Park in the NJ Meadowlands, and Wertheim NWR in Long Island suffered substantial erosion. Sites outside the direct path of Sandy were less affected, but many of these impoundments nevertheless have a history of repeated overtopping with large storms. It goes without saying that ongoing sea level rise, especially at the accelerating rates predicted with climate change, will greatly compound these threats.
The Coastal Impoundment Vulnerability and Resilience Project (CIVRP), funded by the Department of the Interior via the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, aims to map and catalog all state, federal, and privately owned coastal impoundments from Virginia to Maine. In addition, we are compiling information on the ecological and societal services provided by these sites and assessing their vulnerability to sea level rise. We will develop a ranking of impoundments based on metrics related to their ecological value, importance to human populations, and potential for maintaining their structural integrity. The project is a cooperative effort of a diverse team of partners including researchers from New Jersey Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, Conservation Management Institute (Virginia Tech), Princeton Hydro, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Progress and accomplishments
Thus far, we have mapped approximately 166 coastal impoundments at 45 sites from Virginia to Maine. We have gathered a variety of information on each through literature searches, GIS (geographic information system) analysis, and interviews with managers and key stakeholders. We performed a ‘desktop’ vulnerability analysis based on detailed (Lidar-based) measurements of embankment width and elevation relative to mean high water. Currently, we are researching ecological resources and biological data from each site. Engineers from Princeton Hydro are visiting a selection of sites over the winter of 2015-2016 to collect on-the-ground data about vulnerability and to assess any protective value to nearby communities.