Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

pic of brook
Barkers Brook upstream of Sunday River Road. (MaineDOT)
pic of brook
Monitoring site near the Outward Bound property. Note the extensive bank erosion of the downstream left bank. (MaineDOT)

Maine Department of Transportation

Maine Study to Restore Sunday River Watershed

In the mountains of western Maine, what began as a search for a usable wetland mitigation site turned into an action plan for improving an entire watershed.

When the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) learned an off-site location would be needed to mitigate unavoidable wetland impacts from a U.S. Route 2 reconstruction project in Oxford County, they began a "suitable site" search, consulting state resource and planning agencies and a local conservation district. All recommended restoring the troubled Sunday River Watershed in the towns of Newry, Bethel, and Riley Township.

Over the last decade, abandoned logging roads and expansion of the Sunday River Ski Resort have changed the face--and the functions--of the Sunday River and its tributaries. For example, at Barkers Brook (the main drainage area for the ski resort) the stream breaks apart when it hits level floodplain, creating a braided and overly wide channel, where sediment deposits clog the substrate and block fish passage.

To assess the damage--and the potential--of the watershed and some 35 channel reaches, MaineDOT launched a study using state and Federal-aid highway funds and a $5,000 contribution from Trout Unlimited. The department hired an environmental-consulting firm to develop the watershed assessment and to train 28 volunteers (nearby landowners, local and state government personnel, and staff from local land trusts, chambers of commerce, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, and the Sunday River Ski Resort) to help with the project.

Before fieldwork began, aerial photographs were taken and the topography, geology, and soil of the floodplain were mapped. Ten different watershed studies were examined, and each study confirmed the Sunday River was degrading because of changing land-use patterns in the watershed.

Suited up with wading boots and equipped with tape measures and notebooks, the volunteers spent two weeks studying the watershed. Using techniques like Rapid Stream Assessment and Habitat Assessment, or HABSCORE, the volunteers classified the stream reaches, evaluated the ecological functioning of the main channel and its tributaries, and measured the size and condition of riparian habitats.

Their work paid off. The data they had collected enabled the consulting firm to outline a sequence of small and large restoration projects within the watershed, identifying five suitable projects meeting the mitigation requirements for the Route 2 project. Two of the five sites were selected for the watershed-based mitigation--the first of its kind in Maine. And the Maine State Planning Office received a grant from The Corporate Wetland Restoration Partnership to facilitate the design of restoration projects, targeting the watershed's abandoned logging roads.

Restoration of the Sunday River Watershed began in 2006 with the Barkers Brook project. When the work is completed, sediment will move more freely downstream through a restored channel; during heavy storms, floodwaters will spread into the adjacent floodplain, thanks to a raised channel elevation; brook trout will be able to rest and spawn in a series of pools and rifles; and new vegetation will cover bare riparian slopes.

For more information, contact Deane Van Dusen, deane.vandusen@maine.gov

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