DENNIS – A West Dennis salt marsh that has been nearly cut off by the ebb and flow of the tides, its marine heartbeat fading as it is constantly choked by invasive reeds and freshwater plants, may have a chance at resurgence thanks to a grant from the Southeast New England Program.
The regional initiative, funded by Congress and administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency, recently awarded $138,616 to the Association to Preserve Cape Cod to study the feasibility of tidal restoration of the Weir Creek wetlands.
April Wobst, a restoration ecologist with the association, said the nonprofit would partner with the city on the effort.
“We’ve been looking, together with cities, at restoration needs across the Cape for more than a decade,” he said. The Weir Creek area, she said, has been identified in several listings as an area in need of attention.
Weir Creek Wetlands eventually flow into the Bass River and from there into Nantucket Sound. The study will investigate the restoration of more than 70 acres of wetlands along Weir Creek, which also has connections to Kelleys Pond and Uncle Stephans Pond.
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The wetland system is severely tidally limited by two undersized culverts, leading to impairment of salt marsh habitat and negative impacts on the nearby community. The site is a priority for the city and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service under the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project and has been identified for future federal funding for construction.
“Essentially, the feasibility study will be the beginning of a project,” said Wobst, who is collaborating with Dennis City Engineer Tom Andrade.
Wobst manages the Restoration Coordination Center at the Association to Protect Cape Cod, which works with cities to help plan and restore sites from salt marshes to cranberry marshes. Since no formal restoration studies have been completed for the Weir Creek salt marsh, the first step will be to work with the city to hire a consultant to undertake the study.
Describing the Weir Creek system as a “complex site,” Wobst explained that it consists of a main channel “which runs through an undersized culvert under Lower County Road” and a second culvert just east of Lighthouse Road that flows south to Uncle Stephans Pond through “a very small tube that we measured at just 14 inches”.
The two culverts together are restricting tidal flow which is essential to the health of a salt marsh. The initial study will include modeling to determine how much tidal flow can be increased to help restore the salt marsh.
“If you get more tidal flow in there, you get more outflow,” thus improving water quality in Weir Creek and Bass River, Wobst said.
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Restoring the swamp would also improve resilience to climate change, which is important in the face of more frequent storms and rising sea levels.
Under current conditions, part of the area is threatened by storm flooding. Also, because the marsh doesn’t get enough tidal water, the salinity is very low. Blocking the wetlands from the natural rhythms of the ocean has created the perfect conditions for the growth of phragmites, a common wetland reed that the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation characterizes as an “aggressive wetland invader.”
This is “a highly competitive plant that is capable of growing and spreading rapidly,” notes the agency’s phragmites fact sheet. The plant “displaces native species, reduces biodiversity, offers little value to wildlife, and chokes waterways,” spreading rapidly and filling wetlands to the extent that “water flow is reduced and retention of wetland flooding has decreased,” according to the document.
Wobst said most plants that get a foothold are better suited to freshwater. As a result, the salt marsh is degraded and aquatic species, including shellfish, are harmed. There are also impacts on other salt marsh wildlife, such as the salt marsh sparrow, currently listed by the state as a Species of Special Concern.
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As the project progresses, public meetings will be scheduled to inform residents of the issues facing the Weir Creek Salt Marsh and discuss ways to address them.
“We’ll have concept designs hopefully by the end of next year,” Wobst said.
The Southeast New England Program grant that will pay for the Weir Creek feasibility study is part of $1 million in awards for six high-priority projects in Massachusetts.
“The southeast coast of New England is very special, shaped by its history of innovation and its iconic bays, estuaries and landscapes. But we know it’s also under threat from climate change, nutrient pollution and other stressors,” said David Cash, EPA regional administrator in New England.
Through programs like the Southeastern New England program, she said, “we are promoting effective practices and increasing local capacity through funding, collaboration and innovative approaches essential to meeting the needs of our communities and contributing to ecosystem health.” sustainability and economic vitality of our coastal communities”.
Beth Lambert, director of the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, agrees, saying the program is critical to addressing the challenges of climate change. , money, expertise and personnel to push these projects forward,” she said. The program, she said, works to fill these gaps “by providing much-needed technical assistance and funding and by bringing together communities and experts.”
Contact Heather McCarron at email@example.com.
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