Conservation Trust Awarded $1.5 Million For Cold Brook Restoration

By: William F. Galvin

Harwich Conservation Trust Executive Director Michael Lach points to the types of structures in the Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve that restrict the passage of fish heading to spawning grounds. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The Harwich Conservation Trust received some good news from the Cape Cod Conservation District: a $1.5 million grant for its ecological restoration project in Cold Brook.

The federal grant to the district will assist in the removal of degraded water control structures in Cold Brook, restoring tidal flow and improving fish passage into spawning areas. Cape Cod Conservation District Chairman Mark Forest said the project is one of 16 across the Cape in line to receive monies from a $10 million federal appropriation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service for water resources restoration projects. In August, the district submitted a proposal for $7.5 million for various projects across the Cape, but the federal approval for phase II of the restoration projects came back at $10 million.

“The future of the Cape's environment and economy depends on clean water, and the approval of our application is great news for all Cape Cod towns,” Forest said. “We thank the NRCS for their strong support. This unique coastal restoration partnership between the conservation district, Barnstable County, the Commonwealth and Cape towns is a national model.”

The HCT has been working on an ecological restoration plan for the 66 acres of former cranberry bogs to the east side of Bank Street in partnership with the state division of ecological restoration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Last spring the trust received a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, which distributes monies from the sale of environmental license plates in the Commonwealth, to assist with the design and permitting of the restoration project. Inter-Fluve, Inc. of Cambridge was hired and is continuing to consult on the design, said HCT Executive Director Michael Lach. He predicted the design phase would be completed in 2018.

Lach said the primary interest of the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project regarding the Cold Brook site is the improvement of fish passage by removing degraded water control structures such as old cranberry flumes, as well as improving tidal flow in the southern portion of the property.

“This is another step in the eco-restoration trajectory,” Lach said of the project.

A few years ago the Carding Machine Brook dam was removed on an emergency basis when it was in imminent danger of collapsing into the brook. Had the dam collapsed it would have blocked tidal flow into Cold Brook and impeded fish migration into the headwaters. Lach praised the quick work of the town and the division of ecological restoration in removing the dam, noting the potential for the structure to disintegrate into the stream.

Cold Brook is a major link for American eels passing from the ocean into Grassy Pond where they spawn before returning to the Sargasso Sea. Herring have also been observed migrating up the river in much smaller numbers.

“We're keeping an eye on enhancing the eel migration route with an eye on enhancing future herring migration,” Lach said.

While HCT owns the Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve, the town has a very active interest in the restoration of the stream and water flow. The comprehensive wastewater management plan has identified Cold Brook as a location for reducing nitrogen flowing into the Saquatucket watershed through filtration by the bog, or attenuation. Voters in the May Town Meeting and in the ballot box approved a $2 million debt exclusion to fund the implementation of the plan to remove nitrogen, which reduces the amount of sewers that must be built to reach nutrient-reduction targets.

“We're still exploring a potential partnership with the town regarding their primary interest in nitrogen reduction,” Lach said on Friday. “But this grant is to the trust, not the town. We've been collaborating with the town administrator and town consultants, including CDM Smith (the town's wastewater consultant), and the School for Marine and Science Technology at UMass Dartmouth. We've been meeting with them.”

Lach said HCT sees the co-benefit of nitrogen reduction and water quality improvement, both of which are important to the trust. But he added that they are also “balancing eco-restoration with wildlife habitat, making improvements to wetlands and enhancing the visitor experience in the preserve.”

The Natural Resources Conservation District has been working on a Cape-wide resources restoration plan since 2003, and in 2006 presented a document identifying over 70 projects, including 26 tidally restricted salt marshes, 24 impaired fish runs and more than 24 stormwater discharges impacting shellfish beds. The cost of the plan exceeded $30 million and required congressional approval.

Shortly after congressional approval was granted in 2009, NRCS was able to provide $6.5 million in phase one funding. That work was completed in 2013 and provided significant benefits, including restoring more than 3,568 acres of shellfish habitat, along with 44.5 acres of salt marsh. Stormwater runoff treatmeant systems were built on more than 30 acres of impervious road surfaces.

These projects protect water quality near critical fisheries and numerous shellfish grants, Forest said.