River and Stream Continuity Project
As long linear ecosystems, rivers and streams are particularly vulnerable to fragmentation. A number of human activities can disrupt the continuity of river and stream ecosystems. The most familiar human-caused barriers are dams. However, there is growing concern about the role of road crossings – and especially culverts – in altering habitats and disrupting river and stream continuity.
Road and highway systems, as long linear elements of the transportation infrastructure, can result in significant fragmentation of river and stream ecosystems. Road systems and river and stream networks frequently intersect, often with significant negative consequences for river and stream ecosystems. Based on GIS analysis conducted by the MA Riverways Program it is estimated that there are over 28,500 road and railroad crossings affecting Massachusetts streams.
Most of the culverts currently in place were designed with the principal objective of moving water across a road alignment. Little consideration was given to ecosystem processes such as the natural hydrology, sediment transport, fish and wildlife passage, or the movement of woody debris. It is not surprising then that many culverts significantly disrupt the movement of aquatic organisms.
Road networks and river systems share several things in common. Both are long, linear features of the landscape. Transporting materials (and organisms) is fundamental to how they function. Connectivity is key to the continued functioning of both systems. Ultimately, our goal should be to create a transportation infrastructure that does not fragment or undermine the essential ecological infrastructure of the land. The River and Stream Continuity Project is an effort to inventory and more effectively address barriers to fish movement and river and stream continuity.