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Projects

Ecosystem Sciences has worked some of the most important environmental, planning and restoration projects in the Western U.S. and in many areas of the world. Our ability to master any environmental planning and restoration challenge, along with the confidence others have in us to do so, has brought us unique opportunities and project complexities. Our work ranges from the largest landscape-scale projects to distinctive, carefully crafted smaller projects.

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Owens River Valley Watershed Restoration Projects
Restoration of the Owens River Valley from Mono Lake to Owens Dry Lake
Owens Valley, California

  • Lower Owens River Restoration
  • Owens River Gorge Re-Watering and Restoration
  • Mono Lake Watershed Stream Restoration Projects
  • Long Valley Stream and Range Restoration Projects
  • Owens Valley Integrated Watershed Management Planning
  • Threatened and Endangered Species Conservation Planning and Assessments


The Owens River Valley restoration is one of the largest watershed projects in the U.S. involving state-of-the-art concepts to rehabilitate ecosystems and reconnect watershed components, inclusion of stakeholders, and long-term management of natural resources and ecosystem function.  Ecosystem Sciences has a long working relationship with the City of Los Angeles and the Department of Water and Power that is based on mutual respect and trust toward achieving the goal of revitalizing the Owens River Valley.  

Ecosystem Sciences was been working since 1993 to develop and implement restoration plans for the Owens River and the Owens Valley from Mono Lake to Owens Lake, some 250 miles of river and over 350,000 acres valley watershed.  The city of Los Angeles diverted surface and groundwater from the Owens River Valley in the 1930's through an extensive aqueduct system. This resulted in the dewatering of the lower Owens River for over 60 miles and attenuated reductions in groundwater, riparian, and wetland habitat, as well as created losses in fish, wildlife, and other natural resource values throughout the watershed.

Ecosystem Sciences’ work focuses on numerous natural resource projects that restore riparian vegetation along the Owens River and tributaries as well as the rehabilitation of degraded or dewatered stream reaches throughout the watershed.  In addition to water quality and water quantity benefits from these projects, plant and animal biodiversity has increased, fish and wildlife have increased with more and improved habitat, there are more acres of wetlands in the watershed then in decades past, in fact this project will create the largest area of new or restored wetlands in all of California.  

The overall Owens Valley ecosystem, dysfunctional for many decades because of water diversion, is gradually being restored to a functional ecosystem as river reaches in the Owens Gorge and the Lower Owens River are rewatered.  Management of natural resources within a watershed context also prevents or minimizes conflicts with state and federal agencies and environmental groups over city water supplies because management is seen as holistic and balanced.  

The restoration project also emphasizes the role people living and working in the Valley play in ecosystem management.  Although LADWP is the largest landowner in the Valley, human perception, values, world views, and traditions must be taken into account and incorporated into management goals and plans.  


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Lower Owens River Restoration
Owens Valley, California

Water was returned to the Owens River on Dec. 6, 2007 symbolically concluding the most celebrated water war in American history.  Almost a century after Los Angeles diverted the Owens River into the city's aqueduct, LA officials opened a gate and allowed some of that water to return to the river, starting a reclamation effort (62 river miles) rivaled only by the Kissimmee River Restoration Project in the Florida Everglades.

The story of the Owens River Valley and Los Angeles is one of the great narratives of the West. Starting in 1904, agents for the city of Los Angeles masquerading as businessmen and ranchers snapped up hundreds of thousands of acres in the valley, 230 miles north of the city.  Los Angeles built an aqueduct and in 1913 diverted the Owens River, which is fed by the snowpack on the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west, to slake its growing thirst. Another boom in the 1960s prompted the city to pump out the valley's ground water; a second aqueduct was completed in 1970 that drained watersheds further north up the valley, including Mono Lake. In total, the aqueducts deliver more than 430 million gallons a day to Los Angeles  --  70 percent of its water needs.

Springs that annually transformed the valley into a rich marshland for migrating birds, bobcats, deer, elk and mountain lions dried up. Salt grass, cottonwoods and willows died off; tumbleweed and salt cedar moved in.  But the fact that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) owned all the land meant that the valley was saved from the city's sprawl. No strip malls or gated communities mar the landscape. To this day, Inyo County's 18,000 residents live on 1.7 percent of the land.  Starting in the 1970s, environmentalists and residents of towns along the valley began suing the DWP to force it to return water to the valley. 

Ecosystem Sciences was retained to develop a master plan for restoration of the Lower Owens and all of the watersheds to the north that feed the river. Ecosystem Sciences began work on the project in 1993 in which we were designated the experts to design, plan, and implement the Lower Owens River Restoration Project, as well as several other restoration projects from Mono Lake to Owens Lake, some 250 miles of river and 350,000 acres of valley watershed.

The city also agreed to place more than 300,000 acres of land it leases to ranchers under a strict management program. And it agreed to mimic the seasonal flooding of the grasslands, which would again turn areas of the valley floor into fecund marshland, with scheduled releases of water from the aqueducts.  Ecosystem Sciences develop the strategies for all of these endeavors and overseas the effort to this day. 

Ecosystem Sciences’ work focuses on natural resource projects that restore riparian vegetation along the Owens River and tributaries as well as the rehabilitation of degraded or dewatered stream reaches throughout the watershed. In addition to water quality and water quantity benefits from these projects, plant and animal biodiversity has increased, fish and wildlife have increased with more and improved habitat, and there are more acres of wetlands in the watershed then in decades past.  It is anticipated that the combined restoration effort will produce more wetland habitat that any other restoration in the American west. The overall Owens Valley ecosystem, dysfunctional for many decades because of water diversion, is gradually being restored to a functional ecosystem as river reaches in the Owens Gorge and the Lower Owens River are rewatered.


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Feather River Watershed
Integrated Regional Watershed Management Planning
Feather River Watershed, Plumas County, California

Ecosystem Sciences is a leader an Integrated Watershed Management and Planning.  We have pioneered some of the most comprehensive and acclaimed watershed management plans in the United States.  Ecosystems Sciences prepared this IRWMP for the governing agencies, water regulators, land planners and constituents that established the Feather River Watershed Forum, and who are responsible for managing the water and landscape resources of the region.

The Upper Feather River Watershed is part of the northern Sierra Nevada mountain range.  The tributaries of the Upper Feather River flow southwest to eventually fill Lake Oroville, a major reservoir of the California State Water Project.  The Oroville Reservoir is the principal water storage facility of the State Water Project (SWP), which conserves and delivers water to over two-thirds of California’s population.

An Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP) is a non-statutory planning document that identifies a vision, guiding principles, broadly-supported goals, objectives, strategies, actions and projects to enhance the beneficial uses of water for a region. The purpose of an IRWMP is to embrace a watershed approach to coordinating and integrating water resource management.  This approach will improve water supply, flooding, water quality, habitat, recreation, and land use and urbanization within the planning region.

The Feather IRWMP was ranked as one of the top Water Management Plans for the State of California, as determined by the California Department of Water Resources.


Feather River Watershed Strategy
Feather River Watershed, Plumas County, California

The Feather River Watershed Forum was established to implement watershed management and restoration activities in the Feather River watershed of northern California.  The Watershed Forum contracted with Ecosystem Sciences to develop a Watershed Management Strategy that provided an overview of watershed conditions, identifies and prioritizes key problems, and prioritizes solutions to the problems.  The Watershed Management Strategy allowed the Technical Committee to advise the Watershed Forum on how to proceed with allotting funds for specific actions.  

Following adoption of the Watershed Management Strategy, Plumas County asked Ecosystem Sciences to proceed with developing an overall Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM, as discussed above) Program.  


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Cosumnes, American, Bear and Yuba River Watersheds
Integrated Regional Watershed Management Planning
Cosumnes, American, Bear and Yuba River Watersheds, California

Ecosystem Sciences is a leader an Integrated Watershed Management and Planning.  We have pioneered some of the most comprehensive and acclaimed watershed management plans in the United States.  Ecosystems Sciences prepared this IRWMP for the governing agencies, water regulators, land planners and constituents that established the CABY (Cosumnes, Bear, American and Yuba river watersheds) group, and who are responsible for managing the water and landscape resources of the region.  Ecosystem Sciences supports finding balanced and lasting solutions to economic, logistical, and ecological challenges of water management, and encourages and promotes integrated regional strategies to improve water management.

The CABY region includes the four watersheds of the Cosumnes River, American River, Bear River and Yuba River and almost 300,000 acres (4,500 sq.mi.).  These four watersheds combine to form a major drainage area of the west slope Sierra Nevada range, from the mountain crest to the Central Valley.  The collective streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs of these watersheds flow into the Sacramento River and are a major source of freshwater for the State of California.

An Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP) is a non-statutory planning document that identifies a vision, guiding principles, broadly-supported goals, objectives, strategies, actions and projects to enhance the beneficial uses of water for a region. The purpose of an IRWMP is to embrace a watershed approach to coordinating and integrating water resource management.  This approach will improve water supply, flooding, water quality, habitat, recreation, and land use and urbanization within the planning region.

The CABY IRWMP was ranked as one of the top Water Management Plans for the State of California, as determined by the California Department of Water Resources.


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Urban Ecology: Sustainable Urban Design and Planning
Boise River Watershed, Southwest Idaho, USA

National Honor Award Winner, American Society of Landscape Architects.

The tributary systems of the Boise River Watershed form a network of corridors and connections that serve to promote ecological connectivity and urban vitality.  By enhancing a wide array of ecological connections, river corridors, floodplains, urban communities, and open space conservation the communities can grow while restoring natural conditions and building ecological health. The watershed includes the cities of Boise, Meridian, Nampa, Caldwell, and Kuna and the urban water quality and environmental conditions influenced by those municipalities.

This project gathered municipal and environmental patterns into a visual language that revealed the larger composition of trends and patterns throughout the region.  From this vantage point cooperative development and re-connection of fragmented landscapes can occur.  The project outcome informed local, site specific discussion about urban development and the environment to improve quality through effective, sustainable urban designs and environmental planning.  

The designs illustrate how the principles of land and water management and sustainable design can be applied to urban communities and developing rural areas.  While many of the principles of sustainable design can be applied anywhere, their successful application depends on a process that respects and builds upon the characteristics and context of each unique site.

This project received a National Honor Award and Northwest Regional Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects for design and communication excellence.


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Habitat Conservation Planning

  • Owens Valley, California
  • Plum Creek, Idaho and Washington
  • Cedar River, Washington


In 1973 Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to "provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend may be conserved, and to provide a program for the conservation of these species." Since the passage of this landmark law, over one thousand plant and animal species have been added to the endangered species list.

A Habitat Conservation Plan describes how an organization that operates a project, such as a water supply system, energy production, landuse or urban development plans to minimize and mitigate for any “take” that may result from the project. An incidental take permit is required to protect threatened or endangered species, and a Habitat Conservation Plan must accompany the permit application. The federal Endangered Species Act defines “take” as any activity that harms a threatened or endangered species.

Ecosystems Sciences is experienced in the complex planning and analysis that is involved in composing a longstanding, quality HCP. Some projects actually envision habitat enhancements, such as those planned in the Owens Valley, and are intended to improve habitat conditions for a variety of plant and wildlife species, and not solely for listed species. HCP’s can very complex and involve a close working relationship with a host of agencies, and government entities. Ecosystem Sciences is adept a providing the design and scientific leadership needed.


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Sustainable Urbanism: Design and Planning
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel is facing urban growth issues that are effecting the environment, the city’s livability, its status as a world renowned cultural enclave and the social fabric of the inhabitants. Ecosystem Sciences has undertaken a comprehensive Urban Environmental Assessment of the municipality for the future sustainability of the city. The continued growth of San Miguel in its current form will certainly exacerbate the environmental degradation of the area. However, by better understanding the underlying ecology and limitations San Miguel can design a sustainable strategy to guide growth and promote the environment into the future.

By the year 2030, the population throughout the San Miguel de Allende Municipality and the Río Laja watershed is projected to double. This poses serious planning obstacles for urban areas to anticipate water, wastewater and other infrastructure needs. Water demand to meet this population increase will require careful urban planning for the future. What is needed most is a real-world understanding of how urban areas can move towards more ecologically sustainable patterns of growth, production and consumption. This understanding must recognize the complex political landscape and economy of the city.

Quickly urbanizing areas are likely to be the source of most of the increase in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. They also have a large and growing proportion of the population that is at most risk from drought, floods and other climate change-related impacts. How this growth in urban production and population is planned for, managed and governed has enormous implications for local and regional environmental impacts in and around each urban center. Ecosystems Sciences is providing expert planning, design and scientific assessments for the Municipality of San Miguel and other urban areas.


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Rio Laja Watershed, Mexico: Integrated Watershed Planning
Guanajuato State, Central Mexico

The Upper Rio Laja watershed is an integral part of the larger Rio Lerma-Lake Chapala watershed in central Mexico. Moreover, an independent groundwater aquifer is confined to the Rio Laja watershed, thus the surface water and groundwater systems are uniquely connected into a single, isolated hydrologic unit.  The entire watershed drains to the Presa Allende, which is part of the critical water supply system for Lake Chapala and the City of Guadalajara.  The extraordinary hydrology of this watershed, as well as its size and causes of degradation, makes the Upper Rio Laja a unique site to demonstrate watershed restoration techniques.

The purpose of this project is to develop a watershed restoration plan for the Upper Rio Laja and, through the implementation of the plan, demonstrate how a highly degraded watershed can be restored. The project scope is to balance groundwater extraction with recharge, improve surface water quality and quantity, and develop alternative income sources of participating stakeholders.
 
The key to good watershed management is good land use and water management in sub-watersheds.  The heart of an ecologically healthy watershed is the riparian habitat.  The riparian habitat is shaped by channel geomorphology, hydrologic pattern, spatial position of the channel in the drainage network, and the inherent disturbance regimes.  


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Mekong River Watershed Ecology: Sustainable Planning
River Ecology and Human Settlements of the Mekong River Watershed.
Mekong River: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam; Southeast Asia

Numerous hydropower projects have been proposed for the mainstem of the lower Mekong River. The Mekong Secretariat hired Ecosystem Sciences to evaluate the impacts of hydropower projects on the ecosystem, fishery and human populations of the Mekong River. Although the database on Mekong River ecology and fisheries was very sparse, Ecosystem Sciences classified the lower basin into nine distinct reaches and identified a target assemblage of fish species within each ecological reach. Then Ecosystem Sciences evaluated the potential impacts of hydropower development on the ecology, fisheries and human settlements and population within each reach.

The ecological evaluations included an extensive treatment of the types of environmental impacts typically associated with hydropower developments. Ecosystem Sciences then recommended several short term and long term studies needed to fill data gaps and improve understanding of fish migration, passage, rearing areas, migration timing and duration, and overall watershed development and cumulative ecological impacts. Ecosystem Sciences also identified key planning, design and environmental factors related to the human settlements, villages and towns that would be impacted by hydropower development. Ecosystem Sciences also assisted the Secretariat in developing funding proposals for the recommended studies.

The United Nations Development Programme, in association with the World Bank, contracted with Ecosystem Sciences to develop a subprogram within the International Waters Program of the Global Environmental Facility for the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia. The subprogram is a watershed ecosystem management program that correlates with the Mekong River Commission's basin development plan.

The project scope included river ecology, planning, restoration, watershed analysis and rural and urban development in a multi-cultural environment. The project area was the Lower Mekong River watershed from the Myanmar boarder to the Delta.  The Lower Mekong River flows through the countries of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.


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Ganges River and Delta Ecology
Ganges River, India and Bangladesh, South Asia

In the early 1990’s India constructed a dam, the Farraka Barrage, that reduced the dry season flow of the Ganges River into Bangladesh.  In cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh, and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Ecosystem Sciences as lead ecology and science team, developed a system to evaluate the effects of the flow attenuation on the ecology and resources of the Ganges River through Bangladesh and the Delta.  

Ganges River flows from the Indian boarder to the Megna River estuary in Bangladesh; approximately 300 miles of river, floodplain and tributary systems. The purpose of the project was to establish a scientifically based position for the government of Bangladesh to negotiate with India for minimum river flows to maintain healthy ecological processes.  The project required an expert nderstanding of large-river processes in urban and rural settings; and the ecological conditions to reconnect physical and biogeochemical conditions.

Critical stream flow or certain minimum discharge was found to be needed to (1) prevent incursion of salt water from the Bay of Bengal into freshwater groundwater systems, (2) maintain sufficient habitat to provide spawning and rearing habitat for commercial and subsistence fisheries, (3) maintain riparian and wetland vegetation adjacent to streambanks, side channels, and oxbows, (4) prevent erosion and channel down-cutting as a consequence of lower water surface elevations, and (5) develop floodplain and development protocols for urban zoning and planning.  Results of the research were used by BUET and the government of Bangladesh to support and validate downstream water needs in negotiations with the government of India.  Additional studies were performed to determine changes to floodplain ecological conditions and devise ways to restore or maintain river-floodplain function and improve water quality.


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Environmental Atlas of Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
 

The Atlas showcases the remarkable story of Abu Dhabi’s environmental heritage, and highlights its profound influence on the past, present and future of human and cultural development. By informing and educating the reader, it aims to raise awareness and present a call for action to protect the environmental richness and diversity of the Emirate.
 

Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), the equivalent of a US state’s Department of Environmental Quality, has embarked on an aggressive program to monitor the health of Abu Dhabi’s natural resources (e.g. water, air quality, wildlife populations, farming and forestry, and soil), which are currently threatened by excessive and rapid development.  Over the last decade, the EAD generated a significant amount of data that describes the state of their desert environs. To highlight their monitoring success and depict the current “state of the environment” the EAD tasked Ecosystem Sciences with creating the Cartography section of the Abu Dhabi Environmental Atlas.  The Environmental Atlas is a publication that describes the Emirate’s natural resources and highlights the EAD’s accomplishments by presenting their monitoring data in a form understandable to a broad audience. Ecosystem Sciences worked with EAD scientist to develop stories pertaining to their monitoring data and then we created cartographically pleasing and understandable maps that support the scientist’s stories.
 

Often atlases are predominantly collections of maps or are technical in nature, targeting a narrow subject matter and/or an expert audience. Consequently, the information needs of key users, especially senior decision-makers, business executives, policy-makers and community leaders, are often neglected, as well as the wider public with a growing interest in environmental issues that impact their lives.

The Environmental Atlas of Abu Dhabi aims to be different. It has been prepared to address this information gap and embrace a wide constituency of readers in an innovative and compelling manner. The Atlas presents information within a common story and narrative, interwoven with complementary stories, case studies, facts and statistics, illustrative figures, anecdotes, photographs and thematic maps that highlight the most significant environmental aspects of the Emirate. The Atlas is designed to be highly accessible and communicative, presenting concepts and scientific information in a manner that is understandable to a wide audience.


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Environmental Change Atlas of the Arab World
22 Nations of the Arab World
For: United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and, Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


Seeing is believing in this stunning 400-page “Atlas of our Changing Environment: the Arab World”.  Ecosystem Sciences is developing this environmental atlas of change for the United Nations Environment Progamme (UNEP). This unique and powerful publication brings to light stories of environmental change at more than 100 locations spread across every country in Arab world (22 nations in all). There are more than 300 satellite images, 300 ground photographs and 150 cartographic maps, along with informative narratives, graphs and charts that give a vivid visual portrayal of North Africa and West Asia and its changing environment. Using state-of-the-art and historical satellite images, the Atlas provides scientific evidence of the impact that natural and human activities have had on the regions environment over the past several decades. The observations and measurements of environmental change illustrated in this Atlas help gauge the extent of progress made by Arab countries towards reaching the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. More importantly, this Atlas contributes to the knowledge and understanding that are essential for adaptation and remediation. This publication will be of immense value to all those who want to know more about the Arab world and those who care about the future of this region and are responsible to implement policies and protocol for its future sustainability. The Atlas is currently in production and is planned to be completed in early summer 2010.


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Bear River Hydroelectric Project and Environmental Assessments
Bear River, Idaho


The Bear River Narrows Hydroelectric Project is proposed as a central component and planning initiative to upgrade water delivery and storage systems in Southeast Idaho. This plan has two primary objectives: 1) improve water conservation, and 2) construction of a new dam to provide for storage and release of water and the sale of hydroelectric power. The environmental feasibility and compliance of this project is being intensively designed and implemented by Ecosystem Sciences. Studies and assessments performed by Ecosystem Sciences include: visualization, visual analysis, land cover mapping using remote sensing, GIS and field verification; GIS modeling for individual species, species assemblages, and species guilds at multiple scales; inventory and mapping of invasive species; Threatened and Endangered Species habitat assessments and habitat mapping.


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