EPA News: EPA Tool to Help Local Officials Customize Restoration Efforts

 

 

 
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EPA Tool to Help Local Officials Customize Restoration Efforts

ANNAPOLIS (July 21, 2020) – Local officials in Chesapeake Bay coastal areas will be better able to identify the best locations for their top environmental projects with an online tool under development through an EPA partnership.

EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office (CBPO) and Office of Research and Development (ORD), in coordination with the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership, are working on a science-based "decision support system" to help municipalities, counties and others pinpoint sites for priority restoration and conservation projects.

The partnership between CBPO and ORD's Atlantic Coastal Environmental Sciences Division in Narragansett, Rhode Island, is the first step in creating a tool to assess the benefits of various approaches to building coastal resiliency in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Those approaches could include:

  • Reducing flooding risks by identifying opportunities to restore flood plains and riparian zones.
  • Planning for sea level rise adaptation with marsh migration and marsh hydrology restoration.
  • Identifying optimal locations for economic development.
  • Prioritizing protection and restoration of habitat.

The decision support system will allow local officials to assign a weight to their priorities, like air quality, water quality, recreation and habitat for wildlife, and find ideal locations in the watershed to restore or conserve land based on those weightings, according to Dr. Emily Trentacoste, an EPA environmental scientist representing CBPO in the Regional Research Partnership Program (R2P2).

"The idea is to be able to look at two areas and say, if I'm really interested in habitat for recreation for hunters and fishers, here are the best areas to conserve land, for example," Trentacoste said.

The initial phase of work has involved understanding potential users of the system and their priorities.  The project is benefitting from strong user research and stakeholder engagement already conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership – one of the reasons the partners found the Chesapeake Bay region a ripe one for collaboration.

Trentacoste noted that each state in the Bay watershed has differences in who makes local decisions, whether it's at the township level in Pennsylvania or the county level in Maryland.  "And there can be local planning boards that make the individual land use decisions," she said.

"We plan to go in and actually engage with the communities to help us develop a useful tool in the end.  But right now, we're just trying to get a lay of the land – how do local communities make decisions throughout the watershed," said Trentacoste.  "Who are the players that are involved and what types of decisions are they actually making?"

The project is putting a geographic twist to a "Rapid Benefits Indicators Approach" developed by ORD researchers that examines ways to quantify benefits associated with restoration or conservation in different areas. (For more details on the approach, visit: https://www.epa.gov/water-research/rapid-benefit-indicators-rbi-approach )

And while the effort is starting with coastal areas, there is long-term interest in expanding to the headwater states.  It also may involve a suite of end products depending on the user and audience.

"We at the Chesapeake Bay Program want to get to the point where we can potentially have a tool or a series of tools for the entire Chesapeake Bay coastal region - customized to be Bay specific.  We also plan on having other products like story maps that walk through the process we used and results so you can see the types of benefits associated with different restoration practices," said Trentacoste.

The decision support system tool is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

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Fb/EPA  @epa

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