Letter: Many benefits of proper stream crossings
To the editor of THE EAGLE:
When roads wash out due to rain-swollen streams trying to fit through pipes that are too small to hold all that water, it is important for towns to replace those culverts with stream crossings that will accommodate the increasingly high flows of water that we are seeing these days.
The Massachusetts River and Stream Crossing Standards call for new stream crossings to be 20 percent wider than the naturally flowing stream. Think small bridge, rather than pipe. This standard has several advantages. With a pipe that is too small, water is forced into a narrow passage increasing its velocity and often scouring out a pool at the downstream end of the pipe.
This scouring can create a huge pool, sometimes lowering the streambed so far that fish could no longer jump up into the pipe itself. Sometimes this scouring can decrease the stability of the crossing itself. A crossing that spans the stream and banks prevents scouring, and fish and aquatic wildlife can move freely up and downstream to complete their natural life cycle.
An open-bottomed crossing, such as a small bridge or three-sided concrete "box," provides a natural stream bottom, so any animal moving up or down stream would not notice a change, other than a shadow, while going under the road.
While this kind of crossing may cost more to build initially, studies done by the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (part of the Department of Fish and Game) show that the initial expense may be money well invested compared with the expense of replacing under-sized crossings multiple times during the expected life span of a crossing.
Volunteers from organizations including Berkshire Envi-
ronmental Action Team (BEAT), Housatonic Valley Association, and Hoosic River Watershed Association, have been surveying the places where rivers and streams cross under the roads in Berkshire County, collecting data on the size and integrity of each crossing. All this data is then entered into a database maintained by UMass-Amherst where everyone can see the results. This database has a map viewer as well. Each crossing is given
a rating from full passage to severe barrier. This data
has also been shared with
the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and cities and towns.
In partnership with the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, Bay State Roads, and others, a series of workshops was held last year to help engineers, highway superintendents, and conservation commissions un-
derstand the benefits of improved stream crossings.
As our old, under-sized crossings are replaced with crossings that meet the River and Stream Crossing Stan-
dards; fish populations will thrive being able to move freely up and downstream, there will be less road kill as terrestrial wildlife will move safely beneath the road, and we humans should see safer roads as fewer and fewer culverts washing out during torrential downpours.
The writer is program manager, Berkshire Environmental Action Team.