NOAA works with the Federal Highway Administration to protect aquatic life


June 2013

The Federal Highway Administration awarded the 2013 Environmental Excellence Award to a multi-agency team representing the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Oregon State Department of Transportation, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Corps of Engineers for its work to streamline federal consultations associated with the Endangered Species Act. A two-year effort resulted in a programmatic that simplifies the documentation required and uses pre-established processes to speed up federal-agency review and approval. The agreement addresses 24 ESA-protected species, including salmon, marine mammals and rockfish. It was estimated that up to 70 percent of projects requiring federal ESA review by NOAA Fisheries will benefit from this programmatic agreement, saving costs associated with staff resources and time.
Congratulations to Mike Grady, Mark Liverman and Michael Lisitza from NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region!

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Winter 2013

Through its Federal-Aid Highway Program, the Federal Highway Administration provides funding to improve the safety and mobility of our nation’s highway system. While highway programs focus on modernizing our transportation system, under the Endangered Species Act, the Highway Administration must also compensate for any negative impacts to listed species. 

For many years, NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region has worked with the Federal Highway Administration in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to ensure their programs adequately address the needs of listed Northwest fish. The agencies have focused on meeting three key ecological objectives: improving fish passage, restoring floodplain function, and treating toxic runoff.  At the same time, NOAA Fisheries has streamlined the process of approving projects. That’s good news for our highways and our fish.

Charlotte Creek restoration before and after

Our roadways pose a number of threats to aquatic life. They block or impede passage for migrating fish; pass through and impair the function of important spawning and rearing habitats, including floodplains; confine stream channels; and collect mixtures of contaminants, such as metals and petroleum-related compounds, that are flushed directly into our streams, rivers, lakes, and estuaries. If toxic runoff is not properly treated, it can limit the ability of salmon to detect prey, evade predators, and fully mature, and can even cause them to die before they spawn. Taken together, these activities compromise the health of our aquatic environments and the species that live there.

To minimize the impacts of individual transportation projects, like pile driving and post-construction toxic runoff, the Federal Highway Administration worked with NOAA Fisheries to develop fish protection measures for its actions. Each transportation project funded under the Federal-Aid Highway Program will be carefully designed or retrofitted to allow for fish passage, improve riparian and floodplain habitat conditions, and mitigate for highway runoff. If an individual project meets specified design criteria that address these ecological objectives, then NOAA Fisheries will streamline its review of the project under what is known as a programmatic consultation. This streamlined process provides greater certainty of the conservation benefit and reduces the cost of transportation projects by allowing the engineers to have more certainty about the scope, schedule, and budget for the work they perform

Hill Creek before and after restoration

So how does this work in practice? NOAA Fisheries’ review of projects that affect listed species – called a consultation under the Endangered Species Act – occurs if there is another federal agency involved in the project. In this case it’s the Federal Highway Administration. Once this first criterion is met, then the project must use specific design criteria and fit within one of NOAA Fisheries’ categories of programmatic actions, like culvert replacement or bridge repair, for the agency to benefit from the streamlined review. Because the design criteria are pre-approved, the consultation process is more efficient. In Washington, for example, culvert replacement projects that meet the programmatic consultation’s criteria are reviewed in five days rather than the typical 135-day timeline. Idaho's transportation programmatic consultation will also significantly reduce the time needed to review routine projects. In Oregon, stormwater retrofits to treat highway runoff are among the main conservation benefits of the program.

Griffin Creek before and after restoration

NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to working with our partners to find solutions that let them do their jobs while protecting listed species and our environment. Programmatic consultations, together with plans that guide a population’s recovery, are helpful tools used to facilitate fish passage and protect important habitats for listed species.

Home page photo of juvenile Chinook salmon, courtesy of John McMillian

This page Before & After photos, courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)