Location: American Water Systems Across the Country to Protect and Restore Wetlands
Helping to build stronger, more vital communities is central to American Water’s responsibilities as a corporate citizen. We are proud to play an active, positive role in communities where we live, work and do business. Our teams across the country work with a number of organizations to support and encourage environmental, cultural and educational programs and in 2005, we established an environmental grant program to help communities improve, restore and protect community water supplies, whether they are rivers or lakes, wetlands or watersheds.
As part of its commitment to Environmental Stewardship, American Water actively protects and restores wetland areas. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as defined by the Clean Water Act, wetlands are areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas. Wetlands vary widely because of regional and local differences in soils, topography, climate, hydrology, water chemistry, vegetation, and other factors, including human disturbance. Indeed, wetlands are found from the tundra to the tropics and on every continent except Antarctica¹. Below are just a few examples of work that has been done around the country to help restore and protect these important parts of the environment and the species that call these areas home.
Wetlands Conservation in California
With approximately 840 miles of coastline, California American Water is committed to supporting and protecting wetlands and the species that inhabit these areas.
In 2006, California American Water constructed wetlands for the Black-necked Stilt on the property of the Stockton Regional Wastewater Facility as part of a $49 million upgrade to the plant in Stockton, California. Before the upgrade, the treatment ponds attracted gulls, waders, and wintering ducks. The new wetland ponds now provide a broader habitat that attracts herons, rails, and other reed-bed birds. Frogs, turtles, and snakes also inhabit this mile-long, 140-acre biologically diverse wetland. Improvements to the plant became necessary to comply with increasingly stringent standards for effluent discharge into the San Joaquin River.
Experts developed a plan for creating islands and grading margins – optimal habitat for wading birds and waterfowl. Two new islands were created, the lagoons were cleared and contoured, and 180,000 cattails and tulles were planted. In addition to wetlands, the treatment plant upgrade included improvements to primary and secondary treatment, biotowers to reduce ammonia, enhanced filtration, and disinfection.
The wetland lagoons serve as part of the facility’s secondary treatment. Two parallel surface flow wetlands or “cells” are comprised of alternating shallow marshes and deep open water zones. Emergent vegetation and algae help remove nutrients, particularly nitrates. As the water moves through the system, suspended solids settle out. The attraction of using natural biological processes is that there is no energy use, no chemicals, no noise, and reduced process costs.
In addition to helping the area wildlife, the Stockton site also provides an opportunity for education. A boardwalk and observation platform on pilings were built at the western end of the wetlands, which offer access to visitors and student groups looking to learn and observe species in their natural environment.
California Red-legged Frog
The Carmel River in Monterey, California is home to the Red-legged frog, a species that was classified as threatened on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered Species list in 1996. In 1998, California American Water partnered with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to develop a plan to help protect and restore the frogs and their habitat to the areas of the river affected by company operations.
Monterey’s main source of water supply is the Carmel River. The area is one of the most supply- challenged areas in the American Water footprint, as well as the entire country. Supply and flow into the Monterey Peninsula area is managed by two dams – the Los Padres and the San Clemente. The area, owned and maintained by California American Water, counts on the rainy season – October through May – to fill the river and provide raw water for treatment and delivery to customers for the entire year. California American Water works diligently each year with local, State, and Federal regulatory agencies to properly manage the dam releases that provide water to area residents and businesses.
The California Red-legged frog ranges in size from one and a half to five inches long, and is the largest species of frog in the western United States. They became endangered due to hunting, land development and the introduction of predator species such as the bullfrog and various game fish species.
The frogs require still or slow moving water and need the more shallow, pooled areas of the river to thrive and survive. Too much water, as well as too little water, can threaten their environment. Protecting the frogs, while still being able to provide water to the community, is of the utmost importance. In order to do this, California American Water worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Cardno Entrix (formerly Entrix), an environmental consulting firm, to develop a plan to rescue frogs and tadpoles that become caught in areas of the river lacking the optimal amount of wetness.
The rescues involve the relocation of frogs and tadpoles to preapproved areas of the river that are more suitable for the species, as well as the active protection of existing areas suitable for them. California American Water conducts annual surveys of the river and its operational effects on the adult frogs and tadpoles.
California Steelhead Trout
The California Steelhead trout also makes its home in the Carmel River in Monterey, California and was classified as threatened on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered Species list in 1997. The Steelhead trout are unique in that they are the one species of fish that start life as a freshwater fish, end life as a saltwater fish and can complete the migration cycle up to three times, as opposed to once for other species of the Salmonid fish family.
Like the California Red-legged frog, the challenges of the Carmel River and the Monterey Peninsula water supply adversely affect species of fish. There has been extensive loss of populations in most of the major watersheds, due to agricultural development, urbanization, poaching, dewatering and modification of rivers and creeks. A significant portion of the spawning and rearing habitat has been rendered inaccessible as a result of dams and other instream structures, which block or impede migration, especially during the dry season, when water is not freely flowing.
Working in conjunction with Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), California American Water is working diligently to protect the trout by coordinating annual rescue and relocation efforts and investigating the potential benefits of rerouting the Carmel River.
California American Water has invested thousands of hours and millions of dollars to protect the wildlife and habitat of the Carmel River. Such efforts include changes to the operation of the water system itself. During the summer months when the river runs dry, the company shifts its pumping to downstream wells, allowing the river to stay wet as long as possible in its upper-reaches, where fish that have been stranded downstream are relocated in annual rescue efforts led by the volunteers of the Carmel River Steelhead Association, Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) and California American Water. With funding from the company, MPWMD also works to restore the natural habitat and manages a Steelhead rearing facility, where volunteers relocate endangered and stranded fish.
A multi-year project is underway that will address the re-arrangement of the Carmel Valley production facilities, including the dismantling of the San Clemente dam, to improve the Carmel River habitat for Steelhead trout and the California Red-legged frog. This project is required by the Conservation Agreement with National Marine Fishery Services and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and is fully supported by California American Water. The estimated the cost of this alternative project is approximately $85 million. The reroute and removal project has received a great deal of support from resource protection agencies, as well as environmental protection groups such as the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy, the Carmel River Steelhead Association and the California Planning and Conservation League. By removing the dam, Steelhead will have unimpaired access to over 25 miles of natural spawning and rearing habitat.
California American Water also maintains fish ladders and traps on the two existing dams, which help fish to traverse the river unimpeded. Volunteers move the fish up from the drier portions of the river to a facility and release smaller ones into the river just below the San Clemente dam. Samples of fish fins are taken at the holding tanks to check for repeats.
Wetlands Conservation in Illinois
After the Great Flood of 1993 submerged the water treatment plant in Alton, Illinois, the need to build a new plant on higher ground became critical. The old plant had a permit to recycle mud back into the Mississippi River that served as its source, but the new plant did not have the same permissions.
In order to find a solution, Illinois American Water partnered with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Pollution Control Board, the Great Rivers Land Trust, and local interest groups to find a solution. The solution involved permitting the new plant to return mud and silt (water treatment process byproducts) to the river, but to also reallocate some of the funds needed to build the plant to fund a program to reduce erosion in the nearby Piasa Creek tributary.
The Piasa Creek improvements began in 2001 and have included numerous projects which include: streambank stabilization using rip rap, construction of stream barbs, wetlands restoration and mitigation, construction of sediment basins, construction of stormwater retention multi-basin filter projects, purchase of land to protect riparian corridors, and the construction of pool and riffles.
An environmental impact study showed that recycling the silt would not adversely affect the Mississippi River. Moreover, the 10-year plan would reduce sediment erosion by thousands of tons per year in the Piasa watershed – twice the discharge of the new treatment plant. The funds, managed by the nonprofit Great Rivers Land Trust, would also protect up to 10,000 acres of land through acquisition, conservation easements, and wetlands restoration. These efforts also improve water quality through pollution prevention and land conservation and help control stormwater runoff through stream bank stabilization and fish and wildlife habitat restoration. The Great Rivers Land Trust also developed educational programs for school children and the community.
Wetlands Conservation in New Jersey
New Jersey American Water teams work hard to protect and improve wetland areas. They have partnered with a variety of organizations, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and The New Jersey Audubon Society to support and protect the wildlife, wetland and watershed areas in the state.
Rogers Refuge in Princeton Township
In 2007, New Jersey American Water developed a partnership with The New Jersey Audubon Society, Princeton Township officials and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to support the Rodgers Wildlife refuge in Princeton Township. This refuge is a 39-acre wetland area located on property adjacent to the New Jersey American Water Stony Brook water treatment plant. The group worked to eradicate intrusive plant species that can destroy wetlands and then restored native plants to the area. New Jersey American Water’s support for the refuge began with the donation of the property to Princeton Township in the 1960s.
New Jersey American Water also provided financial support to build permanent improvements to the roadways through the refuge that facilitate drainage, reduce erosion effects and equalize distribution of storm water within the marsh. Those improvements were completed in 2008. In 2009, the Refuge dedicated a new bird watching observation tower and recognized the contributions to the refuge made by supporters that included New Jersey American Water. The company’s efforts continue to help the refuge remain a viable wetland that provides nesting habitat and food sources to a variety of birds.
“River-Friendly” Business Certification
In 2009, New Jersey American Water’s Raritan-Millstone water treatment plant was awarded “River- Friendly” Business Certification by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority. Certification required the plant to meet four criteria in the categories of water quality management, water conservation techniques, wildlife and habitat enhancement, and education and outreach. The plant can distribute up to 150 million gallons of water every day and is classified as a zero-discharge facility, meaning all water at the plant is recycled and no waste or pollutants are discharged into the environment. Employees at the plant have also planted butterfly gardens and worked to protect the bat population in the area in an effort to support native wildlife.
Additionally, in 2003, New Jersey American Water received a grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to create a water resource protection project for the Raritan River Basin. The grant was used to improve water quality by reducing non-point source pollution, conserving water and supporting native habitat. River and Beach Clean-ups Teams at New Jersey American Water regularly organize watershed clean-ups and recruit friends and family to volunteer to clean debris from area beaches, lakes and other bodies of water within the state. The most recent clean-up areas included Union Beach, Bradley Beach, Ocean City and Newton Lake in Oaklyn.