Leaf Litter

Biohabitats Projects, Places, & People

Meet the talented folks from new Biohabitats subsidiary, Natural Systems International (NSI) and learn how they integrate ecology and water related infrastructure.

By Amy Nelson

Article Index


Railroad Right-of-Way To Transform Into “Green Boulevard”

A six-mile stretch of Allegheny Riverfront in the City of Pittsburghis in the early stages of an exciting transformation. The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh envisions this corridor, once a right-of-way for freight trains, as a “Green Boulevard’ that will reconnect Pittsburghers with the Allegheny and improve the River’s ecological health. The Allegheny Green Boulevard Plan, now in progress, will determine public access, open space programming, neighborhood design, and multimodal transportation options. Working with Sasaski Associates, Biohabitats is currently developing a ‘living infrastructure toolbox’ that can be used to construct a green/living infrastructure that will serve as the site’s foundation, enhance its ecology and manage its stormwater.  We are also developing the open space master plan for the six-mile ribbon of riverfront. Residents and stakeholders have played a critical role in the project since early visioning work was conducted in 2010. A public forum, held last month to share the results of a feasibility study, drew a packed house! Forum participants were able to view each project component and share their input in a variety of ways. We’re thrilled to be involved in this project and in Pittsburgh’s efforts to become a more sustainable city.

Take Me To The River!

Pittsburgh isn’t the onlyPennsylvaniacity revitalizing its historically industrial waterfront. Last month, elected officials and representatives from the City of Philadelphia raised shovels alongside members of the Delaware River City Corporation to officially break ground for the creation of Lardner’s Point Park. The event marked the beginning of what will be a dramatic transformation of industrial North Delaware Riverfront into an ecologically rich and sustainable greenway park. We are proud to have the design for a park along the greenway corridor and trail network that will ultimately connect the site with future parks. The park design incorporates many habitat enhancement and restoration components, including meadow creation, riparian woodland plantings, wetland enhancement and creation, and invasive species management. Site drainage is designed to encourage retention and filtration of stormwater. The waterfront portion of the park will be protected and enhanced by a ‘living shoreline’ where native riparian and marsh plants provide stabilization, habitat and localized water quality improvement. We were thrilled to see so many people turn out for the groundbreaking and we look forward to celebrating more milestones as this exciting urban waterfront revitalization project comes to life.

Environmental Justice & Water Quality Link Explicitly Addressed

In 2002, the City and County of Baltimore formalized their joint commitment to addressing problems in their shared watersheds by signing the Baltimore Watershed Agreement. Following the renewal of the agreement in 2006, Biohabitats helped both entities craft the Phase I Action Plan to establish goals and high-priority, short-term actions.  To begin helping the Baltimore County Department of the Environment and Sustainability address the link between water quality and environmental justice, we prepared a white paper summarizing the best available research on the topic and identifying indicators used by leading researchers to assess and show this relationship. Informed by that research, we then developed a methodology to identify priority at-risk environmental justice communities in the County related to water quality issues.  We created a GIS model to explore relationships between environmental justice and watershed health, in which relevant indicators were grouped into social and demographic indicators, major human health indicators, major watershed health indicators, and minor watershed health indicators. A report of our findings is now available on the County’s web site. These findings, which tell us where there are communities at risk of bearing an unequal burden from environmental hazards, and where there are underserved communities with limited access to green space and good health, will now help inform the County’s small watershed action plans.

Natural Systems At Edmonton Valley Zoo

Nestled on the banks of Alberta Canada’s North Saskatchewan River, the Edmonton Valley Zoo is known for the intimate and engaging animal experiences it offers visitors. Soon, thanks to the work of our subsidiary, Natural Systems International (NSI), it will also be known for its use of biological systems to treat and re-circulate water discharged from some of its new exhibits. At the pinniped exhibit, future home to sea lions, seals and other fin-footed friends, a settling and equalization tank and constructed wetlands will capture, treat, and recycle saltwater back wash that would otherwise be wasted to the sewer. Beyond treating 615 gallons water per day, other challenges presented by this saltwater system were the selection of non-corrosive equipment and appropriate non-coastal, arctic plant species. Not far from the pinniped exhibit is the zoo’s unique “Wander” project, which features two freshwater trout ponds connected by a stream, a simulated beaver dam and wetlands, which will also benefit from the use of natural systems to treat and recycle water. The exhibit’s proposed Life Support System, designed by Ted Maranda and Associates, is based upon basic mechanical systems which provide turn-over of the ponds, recirculation through the stream, filtration of solids, and disinfection using ozone. A series of biologically-based systems designed by NSI will complement these mechanical systems, recovering filter backwash water that would otherwise be wasted to the sanitary sewer and providing wetlands filtration strips within the ponds.  The biological systems help reduce nutrients, provide surface area for the growth of beneficial pond microorganisms and filter solids.  Designed as wetland edge filters and backwash recovery ‘beaver’ wetlands, the aesthetically pleasing systems will also inform and educate visitors. We applaud the Edmonton Valley Zoo’s efforts to minimize the use of potable water and the loss of backwash water to the sewer system while demonstrating ecologically based systems for water management!

Fort Collins No Longer In The Pits

Among the 43 natural sites managed by the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program is the McMurray Natural Area, a popular spot among anglers, birdwatchers and hikers along the Cache La PoudreRiver. Mining operations at the site, which includes two former gravel ponds, had altered the hydrologic connection between the Cache La Poudreand its riparian area and floodplain.

Our Biohabitats Southern Rocky Mountain Bioregion office has been very busy with a design/build restoration project aimed at re-establishing this connection, diversifying wetland habitat and expanding the width of a cottonwood forest.

Construction and planting of the first phase of the project, which involved excavating and grading the steep banks around one of the ponds and using the material to create wetland and riparian zones, was completed earlier this year. We have just begun design of the second phase of the project, which involves removing the embankment along the river to reconnect the floodplain and creating more wetland and vegetation zones in the second pond. Once this phase is constructed next year, the entire project will create over four acres of wetland, five acres of cottonwood floodplain, and stabilize 1500 linear feet of eroding bank along the Cache La PoudreRiver.

Two Degraded Streams Now Restored In Popular D.C. Park

Rock Creek Park, a favorite spot among Washington, DC bikers, hikers, birders, runners and skaters, is natural oasis amidst a highly urbanized landscape. Administered by the U.S. National Park Service, this popular park contains many degraded streams. Fortunately, we recently completed construction on the restoration of two of them – Milkhouse Run and Bingham Run. Working alongside Underwood & Associates on both of these design/build projects for the District Department of the Environment, we applied a regenerative stormwater conveyance approach, which raises the channel bed to reconnect it with its floodplains and riparian wetlands. In addition to stabilizing the stream system, this approach slows down the flow of stormwater runoff and optimizes its conversion to groundwater. We’re delighted to report that even after the fall’s very heavy rains, both streams are stable and functioning as designed.

Wise Wastewater Management In Mojave Desert

When the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) began a project to expand its interpretive and educational experience for visitors to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, it sought to provide wastewater management that was sensitive to the unique setting. Located about 20 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada, the Corn Creek Field Station provides primary access to the Refuge, an expanse of 1.5 million acres of Mojave Desert. This location is the center of a unique riparian and wetland ecosystem for the Mojave Desertthat is fed by several deep aquifer springs. Native Americans, who were attracted to the area’s lush plant and animal resources called Corn Creek home for at least 5,000 years. By late 2012, the site will include a new, 16,000 square-foot visitor’s center and administrative facility. Designed by the architectural firm Lucchesi Galati, the new center is intended as an example of sustainable and appropriate construction techniques for this oasis in the desert. It will include a natural wastewater treatment system designed by Biohabitats subsidiary, NSI. The system, whose major components include constructed wetlands and an intermittent sand filter, will be built as a learning landscape, providing educational opportunities for people in theLas Vegas area to learn about and respect this dynamic environment.

Talk About Water Quality & Public Health

In late October, more than 30 Baltimore-area health researchers, water quality experts, community NGOs and representatives from municipal government came together to discuss the links between water quality and public health. Hosted by Baltimore Cityand County as a result of their joint agreement to protect their shared watersheds, this roundtable discussion was a new and powerful step toward addressing the issue of bacteria in Baltimore’s watersheds. Engaging in honest dialogue about the intersection of public health and water quality, participants set the stage for a more informed and coordinated effort to share data and form policy that will improve the health of the water and people of the Baltimore region. 


Next month, Paul Kovalcikand Kevin Grieserfrom our Great Lakes Bioregion office will head to the Northeast Ohio Regional Parks Conference, where they will present a fascinating case study. Attendees will learn about a defensible assessment and resource allocation protocol that has been used to respond to the ecological threats posed by invasive species.

Those of you in the Mid-Atlantic region may want to mark your calendars for March 23-24. That is the date of the 2012 SER Mid-Atlantic Conference. This year’s event, Restoration on the Edge, will be held at Brooklyn College inNew York.


Meet Samantha Clark

How many people do you know who have delineated wetlands in the jungles ofGuamand played for the Chicago Youth Symphony? Allow us to introduce Samantha Clark, who recently joined Biohabitats Southern Rocky Mountain Bioregion office. Though she once aspired to a career in music, the woods ultimately prevailed over the woodwinds, and Sam applied her passion to ecology. Since earning her B.A. in Biology from Lawrence University, she has spent more than 20 years delineating and restoring wetlands. Her versatility as a musician (clarinet, tenor sax and viola!) is matched by her resourcefulness as an ecologist. She is already applying her expertise in wetland science and botany to Biohabitats projects. With her educational background in coral reef ecology and limnology, she is likely to play a role in many projects beyond the Rockies. And that’s music to our ears!

Assisted Migration

Water resources engineer Jennifer Zielinski, who formerly worked out of our Great Lakes  bioregion office, has moved to the Chesapeake Bay Bioregion office.

Ecological landscape designer Nicole Sternrecently headed west and is now working out of the Santa Fe office of Biohabitats subsidiary NSI.

Professional Milestones

In the last issue of Leaf Litter, we informed you that Biohabitats president Keith Bowerswas elevated to the American Society of Landscape Architects’ prestigious Council of Fellows. Apparently autumn was an equally busy season for professional development.

Senior water resources specialist Doug Streakerfrom our Chesapeake/Delaware Bays Bioregion, is now a P.E. in Delaware, Washington, DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Congratulations to public health liaison and technical editor Amelia Greiner, who, after years of grueling work and dedication, earned her PhD in public health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Way to go, Dr. Greiner!

The Landscape Architecture Registration Exam (LARE) is the North American standard set of exams that one must pass to become a fully licensed landscape architect. Congratulations to Nicole Stern and Kevin Grieser, who recently passed the three multiple choice sections of the LARE. Nicole and Kevin expect to receive the results of the remaining two graphic sections of the exam soon, so stay tuned!

Kudos to water resources specialist and Southern Rocky Mountain Bioregion Leader Claudia Brownefor completing her Soil Food Web master consulting certification training.

Landscape architect Michael Spina our Hudson River Bioregion office received his Methodology for Delineating Wetlands Certification fromRutgers.

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