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New report will help towns prioritize road-stream crossing upgrades in coastal watershed

Partners including Mass Audubon and the Taunton River Watershed Alliance have released a report detailing findings from more than 500 road-stream crossing surveys conducted using North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative (NAACC) data and protocols.
New report will help towns prioritize road-stream crossing upgrades in coastal watershed

Flooding in Norton, Mass., after heavy rains washed out an undersized culvert on the Wading River, a tributary of the Taunton. Credit: Mass Audubon.

The 562-square mile Taunton River Watershed encompasses 18 river systems, 20 cities and towns, and parts of 23 others, in an area with some of the earliest colonial settlements in Massachusetts, dating as far back as the 1620s.

That means the waters of the Taunton pass beneath a lot of old roads through a lot of old culverts. For residents of a tidal watershed that only drops 20 feet in elevation over the course of 40 miles, outdated road-stream crossings pose a very real threat.

“When there’s a big rain event in a low-lying watershed like the Taunton, drainage can be a major issue,” said Heidi Ricci, Senior Policy Analyst for Mass Audubon, pointing to the fallout from a major storm in March of 2010. “There was massive flooding. The Whittenton Dam failed, and they had to evacuate downtown Taunton for several days.”

In response to this threat, Mass Audubon and other members of the Resilient Taunton Watershed Network decided to get their feet wet. Over the course of eight years, dozens and volunteers and staff members surveyed 500 road-stream crossings in 27 communities within the watershed using assessment protocols developed by the Massachusetts Rivers and Stream Continuity Project -- the pilot effort for what has become the 13-state North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative (NAACC).

Now the findings from the assessments have been synthesized into a new report that identifies priority road-stream crossings in the watershed based on the potential ecological benefits associated with upgrades, repairs, and replacements.

The report is intended to help municipal officials in watershed communities direct limited resources toward projects that can offer multiple benefits, both by reducing flood risks and increasing aquatic connectivity for wildlife.

But Ricci hopes the report will also help raise awareness among residents. “There are all kinds of reasons to look at road-stream crossings,” she said. “We want to convey that functioning natural systems provide quality of life, economic value, protect infrastructure, and protect property.”

Given predictions about more frequent, intense storms and rising sea levels, empowering citizens to play a part in increasing aquatic connectivity is critical to the resilience of communities in the coastal watershed.  

“More than just documenting road-stream crossings, we wanted to be able to move toward setting priorities and getting work done,” explained Ricci.

Access the full report "Stream Continuity Assessment in the Taunton Watershed" on Mass Audubon’s Taunton Watershed Stream Continuity Project page.

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