Measuring Water Quality

Many wetlands of Louisiana receive their freshwater input from the Mississippi river, whose watershed drains approximately 40% of the United States’ waterways. [https://www.nps.gov/miss/riverfacts.htm] Pollutants get into the river from nonpoint sources, which are things like agricultural runoff, urban runoff from roads and sewage, or precipitation of atmospheric compounds, and thus they are spread into Louisiana’s wetlands.[3] Excessive pollutants deteriorate wetlands because they kill vital plants and animals in the ecosystem, which has feedback onto other species. Before interfering with anything in an ecosystem, we need to understand how the ecosystem functions.

Water quality plays a huge role in keeping wetlands healthy. The term “water quality” refers to several characteristics of a body of water, including salinity, nutrient concentration, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen [1]. These factors contribute to how well individuals can live and grow in the ecosystem associated with that body of water. For example, some plants and animals have a strong preference for either high or low salinity (See Salinity Stress Tolerance article), some prefer higher water levels (see Flooding and Hypoxia article), and some can live in many combinations of conditions.

Turbidity is a measure of how much suspended sediment is in the water column. Higher turbidity causes less light to penetrate to the deeper layers, so highly turbid waters often have less submerged aquatic vegetation. Turbidity can be measured with a Secchi disk or Secchi tube. Dissolved oxygen is important to aquatic plants because they still need to exchange oxygen to carry out their metabolic processes. Dissolved oxygen is measured by either luminescence sensors or electrode oxidation. [2] Many of the instruments that measure different aspects of water quality are combined into a Multiparameter Water Quality Sonde to get multiple measurements from the same sample of water. More information on specific procedures and equipment for measuring water quality can be found at https://www.fondriest.com/environmental-measurements/equipment/measuring-water-quality/.

Measuring water quality as a way of determining wetland health is important to many CWPPRA project locations. Measurements allow ecologists to determine any potential risks or threats from developing a project to the integrity of site’s established ecosystem. Fragile ecosystems can be drastically affected by constructing a project because the projects are likely to alter hydrology, salinity, and may introduce conditions that residents cannot survive. Forming a profile of water quality helps to predict the project’s positive and negative outcomes, and to predict the success and longevity of the project.

 

[1] https://www.fondriest.com/environmental-measurements/parameters/water-quality/

[2] https://www.ysi.com/parameters/dissolved-oxygen

[3] https://www.epa.gov/nps/basic-information-about-nonpoint-source-nps-pollution

Featured image from https://phys.org/news/2017-01-technique-quickly-salt-marsh-vulnerability.html

Measuring Elevation Change

To provide the best possible care, doctors first must know what is going on with their patients. The same goes for ecologists and engineers with wetlands. Just like doctors can measure your growth and deduce what could help you get over a sickness, ecologists measure the “health” of ecosystems to try to keep them healthy.

Wetland habitats have many moving parts which makes them difficult to fully understand, but we can get a pretty good idea of whether they are growing or deteriorating and sometimes why. All CWPPRA projects require significant amounts of research to estimate the benefit of the project and minimize any damage that could come from disturbing already established wetlands. CWPPRA funds the Coastwide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS) program, which provides reliable coastal elevation data to scientists. Completed projects are monitored for wetland health factors including land accretion, productivity, and water quality to determine whether they are making a positive impact on coastal systems.

Elevation studies are necessary across our coast since we experience such high levels of sediment subsidence. Elevation can be measured in a variety of ways, such as geodetic leveling, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (inSAR), or satellite imaging. [1] Because of the lower precision, satellite imaging is not great for measuring elevation change for a specific point but is relatively reliable for larger changes over longer periods of time. Another common technique for measuring elevation change in wetland ecology is Rod Surface Elevation Tables with Marker Horizons (RSET-MH), which is implemented at all CRMS sites.

 

. Rod surface elevation table - marker horizon (RSET-MH) in both shallow and deep configurations. All installations associated with the current work will be deep. 
RSET-MH diagram with deep benchmark, shallow benchmark, marker horizon [2]
An RSET is attached to a deep benchmark that will resist erosion and accretion, somewhere between 20 and 25 meters below the surface of the marsh, where the hard-packed sediments lie. With a benchmark, scientists can measure the relative surface elevation . To measure the rate of sediment accretion between two time periods researchers deposit a layer of white clay on the soil’s surface, called a marker horizon. At a later date, researchers return to the site, collect a core sample, and measure the amount of sediment above the white clay to calculate an accretion rate. [3] RSET-MH is great for measuring one specific site for small and precise elevation changes, but is limited in area coverage. Luckily, through the Coastwide Reference Monitoring System, we are able to monitor elevation change and accretion rates at over 390 sites across the coast!

Measuring wetland health has many factors, not only elevation change. Check in next week for our next installment on wetland monitoring!

 

[1] https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/wetlands-monitoring-and-assessment

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Rod-surface-elevation-table-marker-horizon-RSET-MH-in-both-shallow-and-deep_fig2_281113921

[3] https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/set/

Featured Image from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/sentinelsites/chesapeake-bay/welcome.html

New Cut Dune and Marsh Creation (TE-37)

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* Problems:  New Cut was first formed in 1974 when the eastern end of Trinity Island was breached during Hurricane Carmen. This breach was further widened by Hurricane Juan in 1985 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. — The Isles Dernieres shoreline is one of the most rapidly deteriorating barrier shorelines in the U.S., exhibiting a pattern of fragmentation and disintegration.  — With regard to long shore sediment transport systems or the movement of beach material by waves and currents, the islands have ultimately become sources of sediment themselves leading to an ever-decreasing volume of sediment.

* Restoration Strategy: The purpose of this project was to close the breach between Trinity and East Islands through the direct creation of beach, dune, and marsh habitat. This project also lengthened the structural integrity of eastern Isles Dernieres by restoring the littoral drift by adding sediment into the nearshore system (restoring about 8,000 linear feet of barrier island).
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* Location: New Cut is the breach between East and Trinity Islands in the Isles Dernieres barrier  island chain. The cut is bordered on the north by Lake Pelto, on the west by Trinity Island, on the east by East Island and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana.
* Progress to Date: A rock dike and approximately 2 million cubic yards of dredged material reconstructed a dune and marsh platform to protect the shoreline from erosion and to restore interior marsh lost from subsidence and saltwater intrusion.
Phase 2 (construction) funding was initially approved at the January 2001 Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force meeting and additional funds allocated in 2006 to account for change in borrow site and post-hurricane increased construction costs. Dredging was completed July 2007. About 8,000 linear feet of barrier island was restored by placing approximately 850,000 cubic yards of material. New Cut was closed through the construction of a dune platform matching the dune elevations on the east and west, strengthening the connection between East and Trinity Islands. Nine species of native barrier island vegetation were planted along with over 17,000 linear feet of sand fencing. No maintenance is anticipated over the 20-year design life.
* This Project is on Priority Project List (PPL) 9.
* Federal Sponsor:
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  Dallas, TX
  (214) 664-6722
* Local Sponsor:
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Project Front Yard EcoSTEAM Camp

From July 16th-18th, the CWPPRA Public Outreach Team and special guests helped educate children about wetland resources during the inaugural Project Front Yard STEM summer camp at Girard Park in Lafayette, LA. Project Front Yard is an organization within Lafayette Consolidated Government that seeks to educate the public towards a more sustainable future. Our activities this week covered wetland plants, endangered species, and birding with groups split by age: 5-8, 9-10, and 11-14 years old.

On the first day, our team demonstrated how wetland plants transport gases through their tissues with the help of Carrie Salyers of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Using plastic cups, straws, and a tray of water, campers had to get air into and out of the “leaves” (cups) and the “roots” (straws) while they were inundated. We also brought our Wetland Jeopardy board to test campers’ knowledge of Louisiana’s wetland flora, fauna, and benefits.

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Campers use pressure through straws to put air into a submerged leaf-cup

Tuesday morning, the children walked into their meeting room to a toothy surprise. Gabe Giffin from LDWF brought several young alligators from Rockefeller NWR for the campers to hold and examine. In another room, Carrie Salyers taught the campers about the biology of endangered whooping cranes. After discussing how Whooping Cranes use their beaks to catch food, Salyers, her CWPPRA helpers, and ULL’s Sam Hauser led an activity exploring how bird beak shapes are suited to eating different types of foods.

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Campers posing with an alligator hatched in 2017
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Each participant had a different utensil to attempt picking up different types of food and putting them into their “stomachs”

For our last day with the camp, Jessica Schulz, an ornithologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, brought a mist net to demonstrate how birds are captured and processed in the field. We set up outside in Girard Park and allowed the children to retrieve fake birds from the mist net, band their legs, and record some measurements to measure the health of the birds. While we were setting up, we accidentally caught a real house sparrow! The bird was released quickly and campers were able to see firsthand how effective mist nets can be!

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Carefully removing a male cardinal from the mist net
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House Sparrow that made its way into our mist net

The CWPPRA Public Outreach Committee

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) is federal legislation enacted in 1990 to identify, prepare, and fund construction of coastal wetland restoration projects in Louisiana. As part of the CWPPRA program, there is also the CWPPRA public outreach committee.

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The CWPPRA outreach committee works with people of different ages, backgrounds, and interests from across the state and country. The committee works to develop an appreciation for the unique wetlands of Louisiana, and the role that CWPPRA has in protecting and restoring those resources. Although based in Lafayette, Louisiana at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research, outreach staff travel across Louisiana and beyond to talk with policy-makers, educators, fishermen and hunters, scientists, and community members.

Since a diverse group of stakeholders have an interest in protecting Louisiana’s coast, the outreach staff network with many groups and participate in a variety of activities including:

  • hosting a yearly Dedication Ceremony for recently completed projects;
  • developing educational materials like Henri Heron’s Activity Book and WaterMarks magazine;
  • exhibiting at national conferences like State of the Coast 2018 and Restore America’s Estuaries Summit 2016;
  • working with CWPPRA Task Force, Technical Committee, and Working Group members to communicate the importance of our projects to the public at local events like Terrebonne Parish Coastal Day;
  • maintaining the LUCC calendar for coastal events.

The CWPPRA Public Outreach Committee enjoys talking to people about our interest in coastal Louisiana, and these conversations aid in the progress of coastal wetland restoration. Given the complex nature and scale of land loss in Louisiana, it takes many people working together to help restore the coast. — CWPPRA Outreach educates the public about why coastal wetland restoration is important and how CWPPRA projects contribute to supporting these habitats and communities.

More information about the outreach materials available can be found at lacoast.gov.

Capitol Park Museum Outreach event

On July 7th, 2018, the CWPPRA Public Outreach team spent the day at the Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge, LA, talking to museum visitors. We were the special exhibit for the museum’s ‘First Saturday Family Program’ series. As the special exhibit, we were set up near the entrance, and we caught the eyes of all who entered the building. Visitors competed in Wetland Jeopardy, took silly pictures in our photo booth, and matched beanbag animals to their wetland homes! We also had Protect Our Coast posters, recent issues of WaterMarks, activity books, and other publications available.

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The Museum hosts many special exhibits, which can be found on their calendar here. https://louisianastatemuseum.org/museum/capitol-park-museum

We were fortunate to have this time in a great museum full of Louisiana history. The regular exhibits included Plessy v. Ferguson, sport hunting and fishing, the civil war, the Mississippi steamboats, and native tribal history. There were several exhibits on large local industries like farming, oil, and fisheries as well. Coastal wetlands are an important resource that all Louisianans share, contributing to storm protection, the economy, and recreational opportunities, and visitors to the museum had the opportunity to connect CWPPRA’s restoration work with the colorful history and culture of Louisiana.

The Louisiana Artificial Reef Program

Established in 1986, the Louisiana Artificial Reef Program takes advantage of obsolete oil and gas platforms which were recognized as providing habitat important to many of Louisiana’s coastal fishes [1]. Participating companies donate materials, and 1/2 of their savings into the Louisiana Artificial Reef Trust Fund.

In 1999, the Louisiana Artificial Reef Program created the World’s largest artificial reef  from the Freeport sulfur mine off Grand Isle, Louisiana.

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The Louisiana Artificial Reef Program Has:

  • Converted over 400 obsolete platforms into permanent artificial reefs Gulf-wide
  • Developed 30 inshore reefs in Louisiana state waters
  • Supported 71 oil and gas companies to participate and donate

One of the (5) main objectives of the Coastal Master Plan, includes the restoration of  coastal habitats. Programs such as the Louisiana Artificial Reef Program, provide fisheries habitat in the form of converted rigs, provide support to CWPPRA and other partners funding coastal restoration projects.

Source:

[1] McDonough, Mike. The Louisiana Artificial Reef Program. Available: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/fishing/artificial-reef-program [July 10, 2018].