Watershed Awareness - it's all right here
Dam Safety Awareness Day - May 31
Dams are silent protectors, in remote locales, that serve as a source for water, flood control and outdoor recreation. Neglected, without routine safety checks and maintenance, their impairments become invisible and unpredictable — increasing the probability of a potential hazard downstream.
By Lark Gilmer, USDA NRCS Communications Specialist
This year marks the 133rd anniversary of the dam breach that took the lives of more than 2,200 people and galvanized the nation to ensure such a tragic event could not happen again. On May 31, 1889, torrential rain and subsequent flooding caused the South Fork Dam to fail near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Changes in ownership, lack of oversight, and unsound improvements increased the probability of a dam failure rather than prevent one. When the dam gave way, over 20 million tons of water caused a catastrophic torrent downstream. A 40-foot wave traveling 40 miles per hour crashed into Johnstown demolishing the town.
National Dam Safety Awareness Day was created in memoriam to encourage and promote individual and community responsibility for dam safety and provide information on what can be done to prevent future dam failures. Additionally, this day promotes the benefits dams offer to communities. May 31 serves as a reminder to perform inspections, take necessary precautions for climate change patterns, update emergency action and evacuation plans, and share dam safety information with the communities. Dam safety is a shared responsibility. Know your risk, know your role, know the benefits of dams and take action.
Be Dam Aware – learn more
Dams provide many benefits t including bringing water, power, flood control, recreation, and economic opportunities to communities. However, there are risks associated with dams, especially if a failure occurs.
Be aware of dams in your area. Contact your local dam safety official for more information.
Be prepared - Ask your city council for a copy of their Emergency Evacuation Plan and share with your neighbors.
Since their enactment in 1948, USDA NRCS’ watershed programs have designed and built over 11,870 dams, constructed water storage structures, flood management systems, bank stabilization, relocated property, redirected stream flows, re-established wildlife habitat and more to save lives and protect watersheds. These programs play an important role in advancing the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, the USDA NRCS has invested $586.5 Million to address watershed resource concerns including $82 million to address safety and performance issues of high hazard dams.
National Water Quality Month - August
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest $42.5 million to restore and protect water quality on Cape Cod. Some 21 individual projects will receive funding as part of the watershed-wide Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project, which will include seven fish passage installations, 10 stormwater remediation projects and four salt marsh restoration projects.
The funding is provided through the federal Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program. NRCS worked with the project sponsors – the Cape Cod Conservation District, the Barnstable County Commissioners, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and all 15 Cape Cod towns – to identify project sites.
Up to $29 million of the funding will go toward the Herring River Salt Marsh Restoration Project in the Town of Wellfleet. This project will restore tidal flow to over 800 acres of salt marsh by replacing three existing culverts with a bridge and installing other structural and vegetative measures. When tidal flows are restored and salinities are increased, much of the area will no longer produce methane, resulting in substantial climate benefit.
The full list of projects with project summaries is available on the NRCS Massachusetts website. NRCS funding will cover 75 percent of the construction costs while also providing funding for design and project administration. The remaining 25 percent of construction cost is the responsibility of the town and must come from a non-federal source. Work on several of the sites is expected to begin in the fall of 2022. Completion of all 21 projects is expected by 2027.
“Water quality is a major concern on Cape Cod, particularly its effect on salt marshes, shellfish beds and herring runs,” said Dan Wright, NRCS State Conservationist for Massachusetts. “The Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project is a strong, locally led partnership of federal, state and local agencies. This funding will result in significant long-term benefits Cape-wide.”
The Cape Cod Water Resources Project watershed plan and environmental impact statement was authorized in 2009 and included 76 projects across Cape Cod. The project’s goals would restore 1,500 acres of salt marsh, protect 7,200 acres of shellfish beds through improved stormwater management and improve and reestablish fish passages that will provide anadromous fish with access to 4,200 acres of spawning habitat. Thirty-one of the projects originally identified in the Cape Cod Water Resources Project Watershed Plan were completed between 2010 and 2021.
In 2019, NRCS asked the Cape Cod Conservation District (CCCD) to review the CCWRRP Plan/EIS to verify that it was still valid and to identify needed updates. The CCCD and NRCS evaluated approximately 96 restricted salt marsh sites, 148 restricted fish passage sites, and 129 stormwater sites, emphasizing the projects providing the most benefits. Based on this evaluation, the CCCD recommended to NRCS that 98 priority projects (consisting of original and new sites) receive funding to achieve the plan’s acre goals. Additional funding requests will be made in future years.
In addition to the project sponsors, the following are cooperating agencies: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Mass. Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration and Division of Marine Fisheries, Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, Mass. Highway Department, Mass. Office of Coastal Zone Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
NRCS serves as the primary technical adviser to project sponsors because of its engineering and environmental expertise and ability to deliver science-based technology and knowledge about the watershed’s natural resources and ecosystem.
Since 1947, the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program has helped communities address critical needs on flood control, water management, watershed protection and development. This strong federal, state and local partnership has resulted in the construction of more than 2,000 watershed projects that help communities in every state in the nation and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.