Eligibility Guidelines for Bond Act Funded Programs

By Jackie Bowen and the Council Conservation Team
Thursday, May 23, 2024

In 2022, the Adirondack Council was part of a state-wide coalition of organizations that worked to pass the historic $4 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Bond Act. New York voters overwhelmingly passed the Bond Act, and now the state is in the process of setting the eligibility criteria to guide funding for capital projects. There are four overarching buckets of funding: $1.5 billion for climate change mitigation, $1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction, $650 million for water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure, and $650 million open space land conservation and recreation.  

Given the rural landscape of the Adirondack Park, it is imperative that the state work with our small communities to make infrastructure improvements not only affordable, but feasible. As climate impacts increase, including severe rain events, Adirondack communities need assistance to meet immediate infrastructure needs, but to also plan for and be responsive to growing Adirondack communities. Many of the Bond Act projects will relate to waterways in the Adirondacks, and New York has the opportunity to not only enhance resident safety but improve environmental stewardship at the same time.

Below is the letter the Adirondack Council submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which encourages Bond Act money to be used thoughtfully while the state also offers assistance to our Adirondack communities.

April 19, 2024 

NYS DEC - Division of Water


625 Broadway

Albany, NY 12233 

(via electronic transmission) 

Re: Eligibility Guidelines for Bond Act Funded Programs 

To Whom It May Concern, 

The Adirondack Council is proud to be part of the growing movement to free New York’s waterways from artificial barriers for aquatic wildlife movement to protect natural and human communities throughout the state’s many watersheds. We applaud New York State for increasing funding available for removal of barriers to aquatic organism passage (AOP) through the Bond Act as much of the infrastructure across New York will need replacement or removal in coming years. Given decades of deferred maintenance and increasing intensity of extreme rainfall events, replacing or removing barriers will make our state’s infrastructure both more permeable to wildlife movement and climate-resilient in a time when extinction and climate crises threaten wildlife and humans alike. 

In the interest of restoring and protecting native fish and other aquatic wildlife populations in waterways throughout the Adirondack Park and beyond, the Adirondack Council offers these general recommendations (underscoring our more formal Hydro Policy, attached) for climate-resilient infrastructure in and around waterways.       

  • Delivery of Funds through Existing Programs: The Adirondack Council recognizes the need to expedite the delivery of these funds by using existing disbursement pathways such as the Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) program. However, as made clear in the below directives, the delivery of these funds to rural communities must be accompanied by a thoughtful planning approach facilitated by the state in partnership with smaller municipalities in the Adirondack Park.  
  • Technical Assistance: Where Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) are required for infrastructure improvements and do not yet exist (or need updating), the state should provide technical assistance via the NYS Office of Emergency Management (OEM). This guidance is essential to smaller municipalities in the Adirondacks that may not have the expertise, nor capacity, on staff to complete this type of planning process. Streamlining the update of EAPs throughout the region using guidance provided by the state OEM will ensure that EAPs are consistent and coordinated across jurisdictions, where appropriate and feasible.
  • Flood Control Projects: The state must provide additional information clarifying which US Army Corps of Engineers flood control projects will be eligible for improvement (i.e., a map of eligible projects). Eligibility should be more clearly defined and should, where feasible, exclude eligibility for projects that would limit aquatic organism passage or increase the risk of invasive species spread.
  • North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative (NAACC) Protocols: The adoption of NAACC protocols for evaluating all structures where Bond Act funding is concerned is crucial for consistency across state funded programs. The state must help familiarize municipal officials with these protocols more broadly to promote more forward-thinking planning for the replacement and improvement of critical road-stream crossing infrastructure. 
  • Keystone Species: Beavers are a keystone species in northern forests and their dams, lodges, and other ecological engineering behaviors generally enhance biological diversity. Where conflicts between human infrastructure and beaver infrastructure occur, consider installing Beaver bafflers on culverts or pond-levelers in the rodents’ impoundments to prevent flooding of roads. There is currently a lack of guidance from state agencies on procedures for installing these types of “flow devices.” The state should support the training of more experts in the installation of such wildlife-saving infrastructure, as well as formalize a more standardized permitting process for approving these installations. 
  • Derelict Dams: The Council supports the removal of hazardous dams. Unless dams serve a vital purpose, such as energy production or flood control, they should be allowed to disintegrate in place if made of natural materials. Otherwise, they should be removed if they are not vital and needlessly hinder fish and other wildlife movement or pose a threat to human safety. Most logging-era dams on Forest Preserve and other public lands are defunct and the state should not waste money maintaining purposeless infrastructure. Funds otherwise earmarked for maintaining or restoring defunct dams serving no functional purpose should instead be allotted to the safe removal of dangerous dams. 
  • Culverts: The Council recommends the replacement of perched and under-sized culverts with wildlife-friendly and climate-resilient structures. Often this will mean a larger open-bottom culvert, or sometimes a bridge. Always the goals should be unimpeded flow of water and wildlife, as well as the durability of structures through the climate uncertainty. The state should provide technical assistance and training in the planning and installation of new or updated infrastructure that will promote AOP. Addition of the following criteria from the “fish and wildlife habitat acquisition” guidance should also be included in guidelines for improving dams, bridges, and culverts: 
  • Removal of historic fill;
  • Installation of in-stream/in-channel habitat structures, features, and improvements using natural channel design principles;
  • Restoration or enhancement of natural channel sinuosity;
  • And installation of fish passage structures.
  • Licensed Engineers: Granting exceptions to the requirement mandating licensed engineers for all AOP culvert projects is warranted under specific circumstances. While a high level of professional oversight is imperative for intricate and sizable endeavors, it often translates into unnecessary costs and delays for smaller or less complex projects such as culvert replacement and improvements. Many AOP projects can be effectively managed by the professional staff affiliated with on-the-ground organizations such as the AuSable River Association, Trout Unlimited, and The Nature Conservancy. 
  • Modeling: Up-to-date hydraulic and hydrologic modeling studies should inform the prioritization of improvements to culvert and bridge infrastructure, as well as the appropriate sizing of this infrastructure at the regional scale. In areas that have exhibited repeated loss or property damage from flood events, culvert replacements should be designed for 500-year flood events instead of the typical 100-year flood event design. The state should consider developing a tiered system to prioritize the urgency of repairs or replacements to infrastructure based on considerations such as recent maintenance costs, likelihood of failure/previous failure during 100-year flood event(s), and the importance of passable roads for emergency services. This system should prioritize non-conforming, damaged, or compromised infrastructure, but should not preclude the improvement of structures that do not meet these criteria, if funds allow. 
  • Biological and Ecological Surveys: Conservation biologists and fish ecologists must inform the retrofitting and maintenance of dams still in use for small hydro energy production or flood control. Using DEC’s own map of dams across New York, DEC should work with biologists, conservationists, and local communities to set priorities for dam removals. Where dams serve vital purposes, they should be outfitted with fish ladders and/or other wildlife passage structures. All native fish and other wildlife should be free to find ample habitat, including spawning grounds, in all major rivers and in as many tributaries as are feasible to restore. We further suggest priority be given to watersheds still harboring native diadromous and cold-water fish (including Brook and Lake Trout, American Eel, Atlantic Salmon, sturgeon, shad, and herring). 
  • Preserve, Enhance, and Restore Habitats: Floodplains and other riparian habitats, which are as integral to streams as is the water itself, and nearby uplands must be conserved and restored to their natural state wherever possible. Natural buffers – the wider and wilder the better – should be established along brooks and rivers and around ponds and lakes wherever possible. Land along waterways needs protection for wide-ranging terrestrial as well as aquatic wildlife. DEC should work with land trusts to secure, by full fee or conservation easement, riparian and waterfront lands far and wide. 

In addition, the Council proposes to allow for the accumulation of coarse woody debris and natural rock flows in waterways. Forests and tributaries should be protected, not only for their own sakes, but also for the ecosystem services such as erosion control, temperature buffering, and reducing water velocity within larger waterways.   

Finally, planting native species in denuded or degraded floodplains and along shorelines, as well as along state or municipally owned green stormwater infrastructure (i.e., bioretention basins, highway ditches, constructed wetlands, riparian buffers, stormwater street trees, etc.), including via native turfgrass mixes where hydroseeding is necessary. This will improve wildlife habitat and water quality and diminish frequency and severity of floods, additionally creating green jobs across New York. 

In conclusion, the Adirondack Council underscores the critical importance of advancing climate-resilient infrastructure projects to safeguard New York's waterways, the diverse natural communities they sustain, and improve safety for human communities. Through increased funding allocation from the Bond Act and strategic planning, NYS has an opportunity to not only remove barriers to aquatic organism passage but also to fortify its infrastructure against the escalating impacts of climate change.  

By prioritizing preservation of natural flood mitigation such as beaver dams, the removal of derelict dams, and improving support for rural municipalities, NYS can foster thriving ecosystems while simultaneously promoting community safety and resilience. It is imperative that these efforts prioritize equitable distribution of resources and engage local expertise to ensure effective implementation. NYS has an opportunity to forge a path towards a more sustainable future, where the health of its natural environments and the safety of its communities are mutually beneficial.

Jackie Bowen, Director of Conservation

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