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  • Advances in Dredged Material Evaluations for Inland and Ocean Aquatic Placement: Modernized Processes and Supportive Tools

    Abstract: As part of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ mission to evaluate and move dredged material (DM) to maintain navigation channels, environmental evaluation of the prospective material is required by the Code of Federal Regulations. While existing guidance manuals provide useful guidance to DM regulators, they are over 30 years old and not reflective of the latest science. However, efforts to update procedures and publish the documents individually or as a combined dredging manual have been thus far unsuccessful. These issues, coupled with a lack of consistent reporting and decision documentation, lead to delays arising from challenges addressing project-specific issues not clearly covered within the existing guidance, revisiting previously resolved issues or negotiating disputes between permitting authorities. This technical report provides a path toward modernization of the environmental compliance aspects of DM evaluation guidance in part through software executables guiding the management and decision process and through a structured, evidence-based approach. The value added is an updated approach to DM testing and evaluation decisions.
  • Technical Guide for the Development, Evaluation, and Modification of Wetland Rapid Assessment Methods for the Corps Regulatory Program

    Abstract: The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Regulatory Program considers the loss (decrease) and gain (improvement) of wetland functions as part of Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting and compensatory mitigation decisions. To better inform this regulatory decision-making, the Regulatory program needs accurate, transparent, objective, and defensible approaches to assess the function and condition of wetlands. Additionally, wetland assessments must balance the need for objective decision-making with the concurrent need to make Regulatory program decisions in a timely manner. Consequently, it is often necessary to assess wetlands using rapidly attainable proxy measures of ecological function or condition by evaluating a suite of metrics that represent structural and compositional attributes of a wetland. In response, this document describes a set of guidelines to effectively develop, evaluate, and modify wetland assessment methods, specifically for the Corps Regulatory Program.
  • Eelgrass Functions, Services, and Considerations for Compensatory Mitigation

    Abstract: Coastal-marine eelgrass habitat is a critical resource within New England and throughout the world. Eelgrass habitat provides functions and services including providing structure, biogeochemical cycling, erosion reduction, habitation provision, and water quality improvement. Declines in eelgrass distribution are often due to anthropogenic processes impacting temperature and water quality. Declines in distribution and abundance highlight the importance of protecting the existing eelgrass, improving environmental conditions allowing for ecosystem restoration, and identifying viable in-kind and out-of-kind compensatory mitigation measures. Considering the limited availability of New England sites for in-kind compensatory mitigation, additional approaches for out-of-kind compensatory mitigation should be considered. These include (1) creation of alternative plant or kelp habitat, (2) using a multi-pronged, multi-habitat and structure approach, (3) contributing to the development of water quality improvement initiatives to encourage current eelgrass bed expansion over time, (4) reduce physical impacts to eelgrass habitat, (5) and identifying locations for future eelgrass habitat suitability based on climate predictions and investing to create future compensatory mitigation habitat in these locations.
  • Incorporating Social and Environmental Outputs in Decision-Making: Workshop Outcomes

    PURPOSE: This document summarizes the notable outcomes of the workshop “Quantifying and Incorporating Social and Environmental Outputs in Decision-Making—Research and Development Needs and Strategy Workshop.” The workshop was held 24 and 25 July 2019 in Alexandria, Virginia, at the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Institute for Water Resources (IWR). The workshop sought to identify gaps in knowledge, methods, data, and tools and to identify types of subject matter experts who would be needed for the research team. A total of 22 participants attended the facilitated workshop, representing a broad array of expertise: economists, scientists, planners, social scientists, project managers, and researchers from a number of USACE organizations and partnering academics across the United States. Together, these attendees reviewed existing policy and research and prioritized future work to fill gaps in methods and procedures for incorporating social and environmental inputs across a broad range of USACE projects.
  • Birds of the Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area, Portsmouth, Virginia, 2008-2020

    Abstract: This report presents the results of a long-term trend analyses of seasonal bird community data from a monitoring effort conducted on the Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area (CIDMMA) from 2008 to 2020, Portsmouth, VA. The USACE Richmond District collaborated with the College of William and Mary and the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory, Waterbird Team, to conduct year-round semimonthly area counts of the CIDMMA to examine species presence and population changes overtime. This effort provides information on the importance of the area to numerous bird species and bird species’ groups and provides an index to those species and group showing significant changes in populations during the monitoring period. We identified those species regionally identified as Highest, High, and Moderate Priority Species based on their status as rare, sensitive, or in need of conservation attention as identified by the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture (ACJV), Bird Conservation Region (BCR), New England/Mid-Atlantic Bird Conservation Area (BCR 30). Of 134 ranked priority species in the region, the CIDMMA supported 102 of 134 (76%) recognized in the BCR, including 16 of 19 (84%) of Highest priority ranked species, 47 of 60 (78.3%) of High priority species, and 39 of 55 (71%) of Moderate priority species for BCR 30. All bird count and species richness data collected were fitted to a negative binomial (mean abundance) or Poisson distribution (mean species richness) and a total of 271 species and over 1.5 million birds were detected during the monitoring period. Most all bird species and species groups showed stable or increasing trends during the monitoring period. These results indicate that the CIDMMA is an important site that supports numerous avian species of local and regional conservation concern throughout the year.
  • Literature Review: Macrohabitat Metrics to Identify Presence of Chiroptera on the Landscape in the United States

    Abstract: This special report reviews current scientific literature to identify the most commonly cited metrics used to describe the macrohabitat criteria important for Chiroptera presence in the United States. The review evaluates 69 scientific articles from 1994 to 2018. The most commonly cited metrics were divided into four main categories: tree-species-level metrics, landscape-level metrics, distance metrics, and topographic and atmospheric metrics. Of all metrics found, the top six most common metrics noted across all articles were percent canopy cover, diameter at breast height (DBH), forest type, distance to water, distance to roads or other urban features, and tree density. In addition, 27 of the 47 (57%) bat species located within the United States were represented. These metrics provide important insight into the regional or national species-level distribution and assist with modeling the relationship between species distribution and habitat change.
  • Systematic Beneficial Use of Dredged Sediments: Matching Sediment Needs with Dredging Requirements

    PURPOSE: This technical note (TN) will outline a framework to identify beneficial and cost-effective coastal beneficial use of dredged sediment (BUDS) projects. Creation of a BUDS framework that can be applied at scale will promote sustainable BUDS practices, facilitating the delivery of flood risk management, social, and environmental benefits while still fulfilling the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) navigation mission. This proactive forecasting approach uses multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) and optimization tools to balance tradeoffs between navigation dredging and BUDS goals over project-scale timespans. The proposed framework utilizes available tools to quantify ecological system evolution and current and future dredging needs to develop a systems-level approach to BUDS. Required data include current and future information on (1) existing and planned natural and created aquatic ecological systems, which may include natural and nature-based features (NNBFs), (2) dredging requirements and costs, and (3) aquatic system physical and environmental data.
  • Is Mean Discharge Meaningless for Environmental Flow Management?

    PURPOSE: River ecosystems are highly dependent on and responsive to hydrologic variability over multiple time scales (e.g., hours, months, years). Fluctuating river flows present a key challenge to river managers, who must weigh competing demands for freshwater. Environmental flow recommendations and regulations seek to provide management targets balancing socio-economic outcomes with maintenance of ecological integrity. Often, flow management targets are based on average river conditions over temporal windows such as days, months, or years. Here, three case studies of hydrologic variability are presented at each time scale, which demonstrate the potential pitfalls of mean-based environmental flow criteria. Each case study shows that the intent of the environmental flow target is not met when hydrologic variability is considered. While mean discharge is inadequate as a single-minded flow management target, the consequences of mean flow prescriptions can be avoided in environmental flow recommendations. Based on these case studies, a temporal hierarchy of environmental flow thresholds is proposed (e.g., an instantaneous flow target coupled with daily and monthly averages), which would improve the efficacy of these regulations.
  • Ecological Model Development: Evaluation of System Quality

    PURPOSE: Ecological models are used throughout the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to inform decisions related to ecosystem restoration, water operations, environmental impact assessment, environmental mitigation, and other topics. Ecological models are typically developed in phases of conceptualization, quantification, evaluation, application, and communication. Evaluation is a process for assessing the technical quality, reliability, and ecological basis of a model and includes techniques such as calibration, verification, validation, and review. In this technical note (TN), we describe an approach for evaluating system quality, which generally includes the computational integrity, numerical accuracy, and programming of a model or modeling system. Methods are presented for avoiding computational errors during development, detecting errors through model testing, and updating models based on review and use. A formal structure is proposed for model test plans and subsequently demonstrated for a hypothetical habitat suitability model. Overall, this TN provides ecological modeling practitioners with a rapid guide for evaluating system quality.
  • Coastal Resilience: Benefits of Wrack and Dune Systems and Current Management Practices

    Purpose: The purpose of this US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) technical note (TN) is to review both the ecological and geomorphological impacts of wrack on dune systems and provide an overview of current beach dune and wrack management practices. As part of the US Army Corps Regional Sediment Management (RSM) Program, this TN also introduces a case study investigating wrack management solutions for dune stabilization.