They say change is the only constant in life, and as time ticks on we do our best to adjust, acclimate and enjoy each day as we spin through space. Much like life, restoration projects demand flexibility. Underwood & Associates designs and builds our projects to be dynamic in order to shuffle, shift, and settle with the ever-changing environment and conditions. Occasionally these projects require a little help adjusting to new conditions, such as more frequent and intense rainstorms or higher concentrations of runoff due to changes upstream, like a new storm drain that focuses water in a specific way. We call this “adaptive management”. Bulkheads, stone revetments, and conventional stormwater management projects eventually reach the end of their life span or fail and need to be replaced in their entirety. In contrast, our dynamic living shorelines, stream restorations, and stormwater management projects are adaptively managed over time until they reach dynamic equilibrium and truly become a part of nature, embodying the self-healing functions and values nature possesses. Adaptive management is planned for, it is not reacting to failure. When we adaptively manage a project, we work with mother nature until the project becomes nature.
Adaptive management brought us to the community of Saefern in Annapolis on a sunny Saturday morning in May. A Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance (RSC) was created for this community back in 2009 to treat runoff from the piped stormwater outfall next to their pool and clubhouse. The project has been converting stormwater flows to groundwater and reducing flooding and erosion for 12 years. An opportunity presented itself in 2013 for the community to voluntarily extended the RSC higher into the watershed when new landscaping around the pool house was being undertaken. Our adaptive management event last month involved making some necessary tweaks to the add-on RSC in order for it to function at its highest capacity. Volunteers from the neighborhood joined the U&A team as we planted additional native ferns and added a French drain beneath the community clubhouse’s roof to prevent rainwater pooling. We adjusted a slope near the swimming pool’s concrete deck by using cobble to coax rainwater to move through the RSC. After 3 hours, the hardworking and cheerful crew had completed the adaptive management and ensured that this project will continue to reach its potential and function at full effectiveness. A few hours of maintenance work every decade or so is a small price to pay for an enduring project.
Why else might adaptive management be necessary? In some cases, older projects need to be adjusted to handle amplified amounts of rainfall due to the climate warming and “wetting”, which occurs as higher temperatures lead to more water evaporating from the ocean and land, which results in increased precipitation. In addition to climate change, sometimes the environment around a project transforms drastically, resulting in higher flows of runoff entering a project site. Perhaps a forest is cut down and replaced with a new shopping center, or a subdivision sits where farmland once did. When designing our projects and calculating runoff, we use the maximum build-out of the current zoning in order to account for the highest level of impervious area that could potentially occur in the project’s watershed. However, zoning can change, subdivisions occur, and drainage areas may be altered due to mass grading. These unforeseen changes can drastically increase the loads a project has to process. The additional deluge of water may overwhelm the originally appropriately sized material, and using adaptive management to increase the sizes of material may be necessary, such as using larger cobble to top off weirs in an RSC. Our projects are built to be able to be adaptively managed over time.
For example, Wilelinor Stream Restoration was completed in 2004 in Edgewater, MD across the highway from the Annapolis Harbour Center (a large shopping complex). In the nearly 20 years since the Wilelinor project was completed, the surrounding area and watershed has continued to develop at an alarming rate as zoning changed. New highways, parking lots, the Annapolis Town Center, restaurants, offices, and homes have been built. The increase in percentage of impervious acres draining into the project ultimately lead to the need for adaptive management. Weirs were raised with additional native materials in order to accommodate higher volumes of stormwater runoff. While the project as a whole was functioning properly, we are always looking to maximize water quality benefits that keep up with the changing times or environment. Despite the shocking speed at which surroundings can change, adaptive management enables a project to adjust and incorporate these changes. Unlike a bulkhead or a gallon of milk, U&A projects do not have an expiration date. The old proverb says “what doesn’t bend will break”. Our adaptive management strategy plans for the bends required to keep a project functioning at its highest capacity.
Many communities have work days scheduled throughout the year devoted to beautifying and maintaining community property. A few of these days can be devoted to invasive species management on project sites, which is a form of adaptive management. These dynamic projects have the ability to give back to the environment indefinitely by creating critical habitat, improving water quality, and providing an intersection for wildlife, nature, and people to interact. Occasionally they may need a little help as an invasive species tries to advance onto the project site, or a new shopping mall concentrates stormwater into a pipe where a forest once filtered it before. The world spins on while change occurs in its relentless fashion, and in our little corner of the environment we take pride in these hardy projects and honor the beauty of adaptability.