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Undersized Culverts

The Threat

Under rural roads throughout the Ausable watershed, streams are routed through plastic or steel pipes often significantly narrower than the width of the streams at normal flow. Undersized, collapsed, or poorly designed culverts fragment natural stream pattern and ecosystems, contribute to erosion, and exacerbate flooding. They block native fish and other aquatic organisms from moving upstream to the cooler waters and habitat they need to survive and reproduce. High flows forced through undersized pipes become water cannons, scouring away soil at the downstream ends of culverts, creating large dropoffs to the streams below. Debris builds up quickly at the upstream ends of such culverts, allowing roads to flood and requiring ongoing maintenance by local road crews. Streambanks at either end are often eroded. Stripped of plants and the root systems that stabilize them, the banks collapse, adding more sediment and compromising the habitat of fish and other wildlife essential to a healthy stream. The good news is that these problems can be solved.

AsRA's Response

AsRA is improving transportation infrastructure in the Ausable watershed, increasing its resilience to the impacts of climate change. We are working with several partners to retrofit or replace culverts that block fish passage and exacerbate flood damage to local roads and private property. Our goals are to improve stream connectivity, fish habitat, and community resilience to flooding through the redesign and replacement of undersized culverts. Our partners include The Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Chapter (the Conservancy), US Fish and Wildlife Service, Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, municipal highway departments, town and county leaders, state agencies, and landowners. 

From 2012 to 2014, AsRA's partner the Conservancy, with assistance from AsRA and SUNY-Plattsburgh, and funding from the New York State Department of State through Title 11 of the Environmental Protection Fund, prioritized culverts in the Ausable watershed based on the degree of impairment to trout and aquatic organisms and their infrastructure value for local communities. A GIS model was developed by the Conservancy, and field verification of most sites was conducted by SUNY-Plattsburgh. Community priorities were added through town-by-town discussions with highway department employees and municipal leaders. The result is the map above.

We're tackling the highest priority culverts, working side-by-side with town and county road crews. In 2014, we retrofitted two culverts over Palmer Brook in Black Brook; in 2015 we installed the first bottomless arch culvert in the Ausable watershed on Lenny Preston Road in Wilmington; in 2016 we replaced a culvert in the Town of Jay on Otis Brook. More projects are on the way and will be highlighted in our blog on this website.

What You Can Do

Spread the word. Talk to your community leaders about improving road crossings in your community. Take the time to visit the improved crossings found on the map above. If you have questions, contact AsRA. If you like what you see, thank your town and county leaders for building smart in your community.

Join AsRA! Staying informed is the best way to follow this issue and to support better culverts in your community and throughout the Ausable watershed.

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