The recent nearly three-inch rainfall and thaw event experienced around the Chequamegon Bay area provided a great opportunity to get out and see how some of BRWA's restored road/stream crossing projects were faring. We were particularly interested in seeing how the Albert Mattson Rd. restoration site in Ashland Township was handling the huge surge in flows seen in streams and rivers that occurred around March 17-18. This site had seen frequent washouts and road closures over the years and was identified as one of the highest priority restoration sites in BRWA's Marengo River Watershed Action Plan. In 2011 the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) awarded BRWA a $79,000 grant from its Sustain Our Great Lakes Program to restore this crossing and for other restoration and monitoring activities in the Marengo River sub-watershed. The restoration was completed in late spring of 2014, replacing a pair of undersized culverts with four large diameter pipes and extensive roadbed and drainage improvement.
When the job was completed, it was hard to imagine ever needing four pipes of this size on this usually sleepy tributary to the Marengo River. But the site's history of washouts—and Ashland County Highway Department engineer's calculations—told a very different story. As Tony and I drove out to the site in driving wet snow and rain on March 18th, every stream we crossed was in flood stage and many farm fields were completely submerged; we couldn't imagine much better conditions to test a restored stream crossing. The scene was also a vivid reminder of how much work remains to be done in the watershed to slow the flow of water across the landscape and stem the enormous inputs of sediment that enter the Bad River and Lake Superior every year. When we arrived at the site, it was very clear just how well-engineered this project was. Although the culverts were completely submerged, with rapidly spinning whirlpools indicating where water was entering them, the water level was well below the road surface. The gravel roadbed was firm and undamaged from the heavy rain it had just endured. The tributary channel was hundreds of feet beyond its normal limits as far as the eye could see.
Another restored crossing on North York Rd, completed last summer with another NFWF grant, was also in fine shape. This site was restored to correct a fish passage barrier, and does not see the kind of surge flows that occur at the other site. We were pleased to see that the road wasn't washing out around the new installation, even though parts of the road were nearly impassible from thawing and runoff.
It was great to see these recent investments in protection of our water quality, fish habitat, and infrastructure performing so well, and a great reminder of why we do this work!