Pocomoke River Restoration Project: Enhancing resiliency to climate variability and flooding

Pocomoke River Restoration Project:

Map showing Pocomoke River watershed on the eastern shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Enhancing resiliency to climate variability and flooding

The Pocomoke River Restoration project is a partnership between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The priority area is located along 9 miles of the channelized Pocomoke River mainstem between Route 50 and Porters Crossing Road. This area encompasses about 4,000 acres of floodplain forest and associated buffer, and 17 miles of spoil levee created during channelization in the 1930’s and 40’s. The main objective of this project is to restore the hydrology of the floodplain by creating breaches in the spoil levees to allow increased movement of water between the channel and the floodplain, improving water quality, increasing storage capacity in the floodplain, and enhancing resiliency to climate variability.

Pocomoke River flooding through breach in spoil levee.When Pocomoke River was disconnected from its floodplain by the spoil levees, its flood storage capacity was greatly reduced, further exacerbating flooding downstream of the channelized mainstem. Climate predictions include more intense storms in the near future, with more sporadic events and greater precipitation amounts per storm. By breaching the spoil berms, Pocomoke River can again fill its forested floodplain wetlands, reducing the overall flood stage (approximately 4,000 acres of storage potential) and increasing nutrient and sediment removal.

The Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund provided $1,500,097 toward the project, which was leveraged by TNC with $2,382,000 in other funds. Two funding incentive options* were offered to landowners in the priority area:

  1. 100% of restoration costs and $250/acre incentive paid by TNC with 10 year landowner agreement, or
  2. 100% of restoration costs and $1,980**/acre for a permanent easement held by NRCS.

Disconnected forested floodplain pre-restoration. The most recent projections of restored acreage greatly exceed the original estimates, due in large part to TNC hiring a local field biologist that has both the time to focus on outreach with local landowners, and the ability to work with these landowners to find the best restoration program to match the landowner’s interests. As of December 2015, one floodplain reconnection project was completed, restoring 227 acres of floodplain forested wetlands in Pocomoke State Forest, Wicomico County. Nine more projects are scheduled to be constructed in summer 2016, with an additional five projects scheduled for construction in summer 2017. The total wetland acreage restored by this initiative is estimated to be 2,850 acres.

*Contingent on available funding
**2016 rate for NRCS Wetland Reserve permanent easements. Easement rates are evaluated yearly and aligned with current real estate market conditions and may be adjusted up or down based on market rates.

<img class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="Map showing Pocomoke River watershed on the eastern shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia 

Photo Credits:

Pocomoke River watershed on the eastern shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia.  Produced by Steve Strano, NRCS.

Pocomoke River flooding through breach in spoil levee. Photo by: Erin McLaughlin

Disconnected forested floodplain pre-restoration.  Note the bald cypress knees in the floodplain. Photo by: Erin McLaughlin

Digital elevation map produced with 1 meter LiDAR showing floodplains and channelized river in the project area.  Produced by Steve Strano, NRCS.