New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) project to restore habitat at the Little Beaver Island in Grand Island, New York, was recently unveiled as a winner of an Outstanding Stewards of America’s Waters (OSAW) Award from the national-hydropower-association (nha). The honor was presented to John Suloway, vice president for Licensing, Acquisition and Project Development, NYPA, at the National Hydropower Association’s (NHA) annual conference in April in Washington, DC.

NYPA received the NHA’s OSAW award in the Recreational Environmental and Historical Enhancement category for its Little Beaver Island Habitat Improvement Project, a $2.1 million dollar collaborative wetland restoration made possible through the relicensing agreement associated with the Power Authority’s Niagara Power Project in Lewiston, N.Y. To date, the agreement has resulted in more than $170 million in environmental and economic development benefits to Western New York.

Now with four OSAW awards, NYPA has won the most OSAW awards from among all NHA members. Previous OSAW awards for NYPA include the Common Tern Nesting Habitat Improvement project in Buffalo Harbor (2010); the Lake Sturgeon Spawning Beds Installation in the St. Lawrence River (2009); and the installation of an Upstream Passage Facility for the American Eel (2007) at NYPA’s St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project in Massena, N.Y. Prior to the establishment of the OSAW awards in 2007, NYPA received NHA’s Hydro Achievement Award for Recreational Stewardship for its collaboration on several projects with Northern New York communities (2006).

“We are always pleased to be recognized for our achievements, particularly with respect to environmental enhancements,” said Suloway. “The wetland restoration initiative returned Little Beaver Island to its natural splendor for the people of Erie County and surrounding communities to enjoy.”

Collaborative efforts

Working in collaboration with other stakeholders including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), NYPA was able to restore the previously degraded habitat to near its original state, significantly increasing the area’s biodiversity and ecosystems while providing expanded recreational benefits. During the 1950s, Little Beaver Island—owned and operated by OPRHP—was primarily used to store material dredged from various areas developed at the park.

A key aspect of the restoration was to provide ready-access to water for recreational activities, which included the construction of an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant kayak launch. The new launch was installed in Beaver Creek on the northern shoreline just next to an existing marina parking lot for greater accessibility.

“Projects like Beaver Island and others the Power Authority has launched in recent years, not only underscores our commitment to Western and Northern New York, but demonstrates our mission to promote environmental sustainability throughout New York,” Suloway added.

Restoring the 10-acre wetland to its near natural historic habitat condition required the removal and disposal of more than 69,500 cubic yards of fill material. A major design component involved the reclamation of valuable organic soils and seed materials that were buried when the original wetland was filled. One of the first steps in modifying the topography involved removing the overlying fill and marsh topsoil which was used to improve a sledding area in the park and also stockpiled for future use.

Grade changes were also made to the site to achieve the elevations required for a hemi-marsh condition (i.e., a wetland configuration where shallow open water and marsh are interspersed in a complex pattern with diverse vegetation and topography). Once the grading was accomplished, the wetland topsoil (including some of the original topsoil reclaimed during the excavation of fill material) was distributed to prepare it for planting and stabilized with erosion control blankets and seeding. The strategic placement of thousands of native plants was accomplished to ensure the right ecological balance to achieve sustainability and to ensure a healthy proliferation of wetland and shoreline vegetation.

The newly planted area was also protected by a deterrence system to prevent damage from wildlife such as geese, deer and carp. An innovative combination of in-water fencing, a flagged grid network of twine, and upland fencing minimized grazing threats by land and waterborne wildlife to vulnerable vegetation.

Large amounts of extracted fill were also creatively used to enhance the park’s nearby sledding hill area, making it larger and safer for recreational users. Instead of trucking it miles away at a prohibitive cost, the fill material was used to expand the existing sledding hill and also for converting a deteriorating asphalt parking lot into a green parking area.

An osprey nesting pole was erected to increase opportunities for wildlife observation and take maximum advantage of the wetland location. To further enhance the experience for park visitors, an observer’s viewing platform was installed offering panoramic views of the newly restored wetland and a nature trail was updated for adventurous hikers.

The restored wetland was reconnected to the Niagara River through this project to increase habitat value with varying water depths, food and cover to attract multiple species of fish and wildlife. Renewed vegetation on Little Beaver Island is crucial as it will undoubtedly attract increased varieties of fish and wildlife to it shores.

Public acceptance of the project has already been evidenced through increased use of the recreational areas by visitors and in positive feedback from enthusiastic kayakers.

Other winners of the 2012 OSAW award

PPL Montana: Thompson Falls Hydroelectric Project Upstream Passage Fishway

The two dams that make up the Thompson Falls project have been a barrier to upstream fish migration since it began operation in 1915. In the early 2000’s, biologists confirmed that large numbers of many species of fish were blocked from proceeding as many as 100 miles upstream to their spawning tributaries, highlighting the large geographic impact of the blocked upstream fish migrations.

This fish ladder constructed to overcome this obstacle is precedent-setting as it is the first full-height fish passage ladder in the United States built specifically for the bull trout, a threatened species. The project provides bull trout and other fish species access to hundreds of miles of the upstream Clark Fork River and its tributaries.

Tacoma Power: Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center

Tacoma Power’s Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center provides one-of-a-kind opportunities for people of all ages to experience hands-on, engaging ways to understand the life cycle of salmon. Visitors explore the connection between salmon and 5 “Hs” – hatcheries, habitat, high seas, harvest and hydropower. They learn how Tacoma Power sustains natural and hatchery salmon populations in the Cowlitz River while providing fish for harvest – all while generating clean, renewable electricity at the Cowlitz Hydroelectric Project.

Visitors follow salmon eggs through a survival maze and witness how hazards on the journey affect the number of fish that return to spawn. Marbles represent the eggs and travel from the hatchery to the ocean and back to the Cowlitz River to spawn.