Fifty years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, urban waterways across the United States are continuing their comeback and are showing increasing signs of life. A strategy that is being adopted in many places is to use natural restoration techniques focused on bolstering plants and wildlife to improve water quality.
A nonprofit called the Upstream Alliance has focused on public access, clean water, and coastal resilience in the Delaware, Hudson, and Chesapeake watersheds. Working with the Center for Aquatic Sciences and with support from the EPA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the alliance has been repopulating areas of an estuary of the Delaware River near Camden, New Jersey with wild celery grass, which is a plant vital to freshwater ecosystems.
In many places, scientists, nonprofits, academic institutions, and state agencies are focusing on organisms like bivalves (typically oysters and mussels) along with aquatic plants to help nature restore fragile ecosystems, improve water quality, and increase resilience.
Bivalves and aquatic vegetation improve water clarity by grounding suspended particles, which allows more light to penetrate. These organisms also cycle nutrients both by absorbing them as food and by making them more available to other organisms.
Underwater restoration projects have been underway in New York Harbor for more than a decade, where the Billion Oyster Project has engaged 10,000 volunteers and 6,000 students.
The hope is that bringing back bivalves and aquatic plants can create a lasting foundation for entire ecosystems. It is restoring nature’s ability to keep itself clean.
Photo, posted December 19, 2019, courtesy of Scott via Flickr.