Biohabitats Projects, Places, and People
Earlier this month, our entire team–from every one of our Bioregion Offices–traveled to the rolling hills of northern Maryland to share thoughts, knowledge, and plans for Biohabitats’ future. Among the many themes that emerged was our overwhelming sense of gratitude for the privilege of working toward our mission with clients and partners who are so deeply committed to improving communities and the natural systems that sustain them. This Winter Solstice and always, we wish you peace and joy.
Resilient by Design
Biohabitats is honored to be a member of the ‘Home Team’, one of 12 teams competing in the Resilient by Design; Bay Area Challenge in San Francisco. Led by the amazing design firm, Mithun, Biohabitats is contributing expertise in ecology, sea level rise, living shoreline adaptation, stormwater management, and integrated water strategies. The Home Team’s proposal is to reframe the boundaries of home by creating multi-benefit, priority-resilience districts in the region’s most vulnerable communities. By leveraging investments that focus on the integration of housing and ecological infrastructure, new wealth-building opportunities for existing residents can increase structural equity.
As we learned more about the issues, our commitment to a racial equity framework was reinforced, but our opinion about realignment of communities to safer ground changed. The value of social cohesion as an indicator of resilience and the investment represented by the existing infrastructure systems led us to address adapt-in-place strategies, such as exploring in-water housing and neighborhood systems that can support healthy bay ecologies. Directing investment to these vulnerable areas is both proactive (avoiding crisis and displacement), as well as innovative (unlocking new small business opportunities, creative financing, and regulatory models that can be tested for replication across the Bay Area).
The Home Team is excited about working with the residents and stakeholders in North Richmond, East Oakland, and Marin City to collectively implement ideas at multiple geographic and temporary time scales, shifting community expectations, building leadership, and fostering advocacy.
As part of the Collaborated Research Phase of the Design Challenge, last month Home Team submitted a research report summarizing our findings for developing resilient design strategies for these three communities. Beginning in January, Home Team, along with the other teams, will begin a year-long Collaborative Design Phase to develop site-specific conceptual design solutions in coordination with community groups as well as state and local government partners. To stay current on our progress, check out our Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram posts.
Atlanta’s Future Framed in Nature
We are excited to announce that last month, Biohabitats officially kicked off the development of the City of Atlanta’s Urban Ecology Framework (UEF). We look forward to working with the Department of City Planning on this exciting project over the next 18 months. The goal of the UEF is to develop a plan for enhancing and preserving natural systems throughout the city of Atlanta, while being responsive to population growth projections (an estimated 2.5 million people in the coming years) and the vision for a “Beloved Community” set out in the recently released Atlanta City Design document. The UEF will seek to utilize urban green space and the public realm to connect the entire community and establish a citywide green network. The project team will examine the City’s natural environs, including rivers and creeks, forest and tree canopy, ridges and watersheds, public and private green spaces, and other defining features of Atlanta. Informed by community input and data analysis, the team will then identify and recommend opportunities, strategies, and policies to restore ecosystems and habitat, generate future connected green and blue spaces, and promote development aligned with those features and systems.
Ohio’s Kelsey Creek Just Keeps Getting Better
We are delighted to have helped the City of Cuyahoga Falls complete the second part of a multi-phased effort to restore portions of Kelsey Creek, a tributary to the Cuyahoga River. The restoration was funded through an Ohio EPA Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program Section 319 grant and the City’s Stormwater Utility Fee. The recently restored section, located upstream of a section we helped the City restore in 2013, runs through Kennedy Park, home to the Cuyahoga Falls Arboretum.
Excessive stormwater and a lack of healthy bank vegetation caused this 750-foot section of stream to erode, threatening one of the park’s ballfields. With a design that lowers the floodplain to reduce erosion and protect park property, the restoration also helps the City reduce sediment and nutrient loads. Construction was completed over the fall by Meadville Land Service, and earlier this month, local high school students joined us in planting more than 190 native trees and shrubs, as well as 500 live stakes. In addition to further improving Kelsey Creek’s stability, habitat, and ecological function, the restored site augments the Arboretum and provides hands on experience for a new generation of stewards.
Algae does double duty at Port of Baltimore: cleans water and converts to clean energy
Biohabitats is working with the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) and University of Maryland (UMD) on the cutting-edge application of an algal ecotechnology and renewable clean energy. In 2013 we teamed with MPA and UMD to set up an Algal Turf Scrubber® (ATS™) at the Dundalk Marine Terminal in Baltimore. The ATS™ is a device that uses natural algae to remove nutrients from water and convert them into easily harvested biomass that has demonstrated potential as a biofuel source. The technology, which involves moving water along lengthy floway, allows algae that grows along the sluiceway to take up nutrients and CO2 from the water while injecting high concentrations of oxygen back into it. The ATS™ relies on pumps to move water, gravity flow, and sunlight to grow algae.
Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration to support the development of new air emission-reducing maritime solutions, the MPA, UMD, and Biohabitats are teaming up again to take the project a step further.
We are demonstrating the ability to provide electricity to a pilot-scale ATS™ using a microbial fuel cell that is partially fueled by biogas generated on site. An algal anaerobic digester coupled with a biogas collection and storage system was designed by UMD’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology. The biogas supplemented natural gas, a feedstock to the fuel cell with zero emission electricity production demonstrated on site.
The intent of this project was to prove the algae produced would generate quality biogas to support electricity production in the fuel cell. Ideally, a planned scale up of the ATS to 3-6 million gallons per day will produce enough algae to economically support biogas production and conversion to electricity to power the ATS water pumps. We are excited about the potential of algae to help clients like the MPA meet pollution reduction goals while also yielding a biofuel and energy source!
Restored Stream in Historic Watershed
Within the Washington, DC metropolitan area’s Watts Branch watershed, where iconic hydrologist and author Luna Leopold once performed research on the effects of urbanization on stream function, is a stream that exemplified just the kind of functional impairment Leopold was studying. Like many streams within the Washington, DC area, the Bedfordshire tributary, which ultimately flows into the Potomac River, had become severely eroded as a result of historic unsustainable land management practices and hydrologic manipulations associated with upstream watershed development. Studies indicated that the tributary was exporting significant amounts of sediment through downstream waters, degrading water quality, and diminishing in-stream aquatic habitat. Several storm drainage inputs into the channel made matters worse, causing the stream to experience flashy peak flows during storm events.
We were thrilled to help Montgomery County, MD Department of the Environment (DEP) restore an 1,100-foot reach of the degraded tributary in a way that also furthered the County’s efforts to fulfill their MS4 permitting requirements. In a joint venture with Century Engineering, we provided design services for the restoration of the Bedfordshire tributary, and the retrofit of a downstream stormwater pond. Our approach was to raise the bed elevation of the existing channel to convey higher intensity flows onto adjacent floodplain benches. The design also included the use of several in-stream structures, ranging from robust boulder grade control structures and in-stream large woody debris placement, to softer touch methods including hand installed brush bundles on the outsides of sharp meander bends. We look forward to seeing stability, function, and habitat restored to this tributary, and we are grateful for the pioneering work of Dr. Leopold, which did so much to advance our field.
Natural Area Becomes More Natural in Fort Collins
We recently finished a design/build project for the City of Fort Collins’ Natural Areas Department at the Udall Natural Area in Old Town Fort Collins. The implementation of this project is a direct result of our assessment and recommendations for riparian restoration within the City’s natural areas along the Poudre River.
The Udall Natural Area contains several large water quality basins that had to be protected from large flow events, so we were not able to conduct a floodplain restoration as we did at the McMurry and Sterling Natural Areas. However, we were able to remove about 1,000 tons of concrete rubble and a large number of invasive Siberian elms from the river banks. We also laid back the steep river banks, which provided more area to plant native trees and shrubs.
We installed boulder toe along the outside bend (where most of the concrete rubble was removed), and transplanted large willow clumps behind the boulder toe. We also transplanted large cottonwoods on the slope behind the willows. We then installed container trees and shrubs between the willows and the cottonwoods, as well as hundreds of live willow and cottonwood stakes. The result is a much more natural, native riparian corridor along the river which provides a much-needed connection for wildlife in this highly developed area on the river. It also provides a more pleasing green space for locals to enjoy.
Baltimore City Forest’s Future Planned
A forest management plan has been completed by Biohabitats for one of the largest urban forested parks in the eastern U.S., Gwynns Falls-Leakin Park in Baltimore City. The Gwynns Falls-Leakin Park Forest Management Plan (GFLPFMP) will be used to guide the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks in its effort to sustainably manage over 1000 acres, where human and natural disturbances have hindered natural processes and functions including native forest regeneration, native biodiversity, soil microbiology, plant-animal relationships, and hydrologic and fire regimes. An extensive forest assessment was used to analyze forest conditions, determine key management needs, and develop strategies to help the City improve native species diversity, reduce negative impacts, and improve overall forest health and resiliency. As part of its mission to safeguard and expand Baltimore’s tree canopy, the GFLPFMP will help to guide future restoration and management of this forested urban treasure.
Piloting Restoration in Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay
Ohio’s East Sandusky Bay near Sandusky, Ohio, is ecologically unique because it contains Putnam Marsh, an area featuring submerged, emergent, and floating aquatic plants within a shallow protected embayment that provides a range of diverse fish and wildlife habitats. In recent years, however, the marsh has been degraded by past and on-going land use practices, invasive plant species including Phragmites, and higher Lake Erie water levels.
Working alongside Toronto-based W.F. Baird & Associates, we are helping the City of Sandusky, Ohio to design a coastal wetland and nature-based shoreline pilot project in East Sandusky Bay. The effort, funded with Healthy Lake Erie Fund capital dollars through the ODNR Coastal Management Program, is part of the state’s larger Sandusky Bay Initiative. This initiative aims to improve water quality by reducing nutrient and sediment loads and enhance fish and wildlife habitat through coastal wetland and nature-based shoreline restoration within the 64-square mile Sandusky Bay. Where possible, priority projects will include beneficial reuse of dredged sediments as part of a larger plan by the State of Ohio to eliminate open water disposal of dredged sediments in Lake Erie by July 1, 2020.
Our initial work in East Sandusky Bay has focused on completing a baseline ecological assessment and coastal modeling to understand hydrodynamic conditions in the Bay. In the coming months, we will be working with a diverse group of stakeholders to identify and advance to design one or more pilot projects focused on improving water quality and nutrient assimilation, helping with marsh expansion over time, and improving fish and wildlife habitat. The pilot projects will also serve to test restoration approaches that may have broader application in Sandusky Bay, the Lake Erie Basin, and the Great Lakes.
Nature Center Walks the Talk of Stewardship
In its new green building and throughout the forest, meadows, wetlands, and headwater tributaries that enliven its 200-acre campus, Irvine Nature Center provides experiential environmental studies and natural science opportunities to children and adults in the greater Baltimore region. With a mission that includes inspiring current and future generations to explore, respect, and protect nature, Irvine recognized the need to protect and improve some of the nature in its own backyard. This summer and fall, we teamed with Resource Environmental Solutions to restore over 1500 feet of degraded stream and enhance and create wetlands adjacent to the stream. The streams had been degraded by past irrigation practices on the site as well as more recent land use changes on surrounding properties.
Our design restored the degraded stream sections in a way that diverted stormflow to an adjacent field. This approach restores the stream itself, while facilitating the restoration of riparian wetland hydrology and the reduction of sediment and nutrient loading. The design also reestablished a mosaic of native emergent, forested, and scrub shrub wetlands. Construction wrapped this summer, and during the fall season, with the help of volunteers, Resource Environmental Solutions planted nearly 2,200 trees and shrubs, and spread native dry and wet meadow herbaceous seed mixes.
Workshop on Innovation Asks: What Would Nature Do?
On Wednesday November 1st at the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room in Cleveland, Biohabitats, Cleveland Water Alliance and Great Lakes Biomimicry hosted a four-hour Biomimicry Open Innovation Session facilitated by Biomimicry PhD Fellow Elena Stachew. This is the second Open Innovation Session of its kind, leveraging the regional biomimicry community and all the organizations who sponsor Biomimicry Fellows in the University of Akron’s Integrated Biosciences PhD program.
The idea is to pose a challenge statement unique to your industry that is open to collaboration and biomimicry design thinking to seek potential solutions. Our challenge statement was to incorporate habitat features into existing and/or new shore protection structures to provide aquatic habitat for targeted fish species and enhance ecological functions, benefits and services in both freshwater riverine and coastal environments.
26 people from eight institutions participated and identified 10+ biomimicry models for abstraction. Models for wave energy absorption and dissipation included the Venus flower basket, Peregrine Falcon nose, eel grass and the toucan beak. The shortfin mako shark was a model for flow manipulation of sediment transfer and deposition when considering the effect of shore protection structures on littoral transport.
Rebecca Blice, Project Manager with Nottingham Spirk and Innovation Session participant, had this to say as her biggest take-away from the session: “These guided open innovation sessions are extremely helpful to me. I come away every time realizing that I need to first find the root function of the issue, then look to nature, rather than immediately think of solutions. My engineer brain wants to solve right away and I need to turn that off.”
Advancing Sustainability and Equity in Cape Town, South Africa
Every spring, EcoDistricts, an organization dedicated to advancing a new model of urban regeneration and community development rooted in authentic collaboration and social, economic and ecological innovation, holds its annual “Incubator,” a three-day intensive designed to empower district-scale teams to accelerate sustainable projects forward. Teams at the 2017 EcoDistricts Incubator included a South African delegation that was seeking to develop affordable, well-located, sustainable housing on land owned by the City of Cape Town.
Last month, as a follow up to the Incubator, EcoDistricts sent a team of experts to help advance interest in pursuing development in Cape Town that would link sustainability and equity at the district scale. Included on that team was Biohabitats senior engineer, Pete Muñoz. Pete is providing expertise in ecological design and water management, a critical area for a city facing severe drought and dangerously low water supply. Pete is joined by teammates from EcoDistricts, the Enterprise Community Foundation, Justice Sustainability Associates, and Movement Strategy Center. During the team’s visit to Cape Town, they met with developers, financial partners, city officials, and NGO partners. Pete also presented a talk about water infrastructure and ecological thinking at City Council chambers. “There is tremendous opportunity in Cape Town,” said Pete. “I’m honored to work alongside forward-thinking partners in Cape Town to advance resilience, equity, and climate protection.”
Look for Biohabitats at these upcoming conferences:
Delaware Wetlands Conference, 1/31-2/1, Wilmington, DE
River Restoration Northwest, 2/6-8, Stevenson, WA
Upper Midwest Stream Restoration Symposium, Dubuque, Iowa, 2/25. Don’t miss Suzanne Hoehne’s presentation “Faster, Smoother, and Cheaper: When to use design/build.”
Terry Doss, Kevin Grieser, Greg Zucknick, and Susan Sherrod join a growing body of Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioners. For more information about this certification by the Society for Ecological Restoration International, click here.
Water resources engineer George Battersby is now a Registered P.E. in the state of Maryland.
GIS specialist Chris Rehak just received his FAA Remote Pilot Certification.
Water resources engineer/landscape architect Crystal Grinnell just finished her first semester teaching a class on ‘Urban Water Solutions’ to architecture majors in the University of Oregon’s College of Design.
Landscape architect Markku McGlynn is now a SITES Accredited Professional. For more information about this certification, click here.
Jeff Regan is now a Professional Wetland Scientist. For more about this certification by the Society of Wetland Scientists, click here.
Meet our newest team members!
Miguel Arteaga, Ecological Restoration Construction Supervisor
Originally from: San Martin de Bolanos, Jalisco, Mexico
Expertise: Habitat restoration construction & all-around handyman
Favorite type of project: I really like the fish salvage/rescue work that we do prior to excavation activities. I also like our big river projects, like the Sandy River.
Favorite sport/team: Soccer, I grew up playing soccer. I like the Blazers (when they’re doing well at least).
Surprising talent: My dad taught me how to harvest honey in the wild. We would sell the honey and honeycombs at the market when I was a kid. I would like to someday keep bees as a hobby, and have my own place for beehives.
Role model: My oldest brother Salvador. He was our oldest sibling. He did everything for us.
Childhood ambition: business owner.
Favorite book and/or movie: Coco
Favorite ecosystem: Pacific northwest rainforest is my favorite.
Megan Baker, Controller
Originally from: Avon Lake, OH
Expertise: Accounting. Before coming to Biohabitats, I worked in public accounting as financial statement auditor, corporate finance for a sports agency, and was the Controller for an ecological restoration/construction company.
Best Biohabitats moment so far: Experiencing the company-wide retreat and having the opportunity to meet and spend a couple of days with everyone on the team.
Favorite sports team: There will forever be a place in my heart for Cleveland sports
Hobbies: I am studying sister sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga, currently working on my 200-hour certification. I also like to cook and eat nourishing food, hike, travel, and snuggle with my two cats.
Childhood ambition: I always wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic and studied Anthropology before becoming an Accountant.
Interesting accomplishment: I twice ran in costume (once as Chewbacca and a second time as Han Solo) in an Olympic-torch-style light saber relay along the California coast.
Tyler Schlachter, Geographer
Originally from: Sykesville, MD
Best Biohabitats moment so far: In September, we were wrapping up a floating wetlands project in DC and I got the chance to see the culmination of work done before my time. This meant a day out on the Anacostia River in Biohabitats’ boat, Crabby Abbey, working with a great crew to put together and install some really amazing wetlands.
Favorite type of project: We’ve been developing some new web maps that integrate our own aerial imagery with citizen science datasets. It’s simple – but a powerful tool for design and learning.
Hobbies: I’ve been known to take on some woodworking tasks – I’d like to try my hand at metalworking and 3D design.
Volunteer work: I’m working with a group at the Neighborhood Design Center on developing a building and site design for a local charter school.
Childhood ambition: Still would like to be a farmer.
Favorite ecosystem: The oak savannas of North America have a rich cultural and ecological history. They’re perfect for studying human ecology.
Golden Acorn Winner
Every quarter, Biohabitats awards one staff member with the Golden Acorn, an award recognizing an employee who embodies the Biohabitats mission to “Restore the Earth and Inspire Ecological Stewardship.” The gold color symbolizes purity of purpose in protecting and defending nature, and the acorn symbolizes strength of resolve. Nominees are submitted by the staff. Our most recent Golden Acorn winner was Creative Director, Jean Wisenbaugh. Recipients of the Golden Acorn get to direct a monetary donation to the non-profit organization of their choice. Jean directed her donation to The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people ages 13-24.