Inventory and Prioritization of Impaired Sites in the Yellow River Watershed in Florida
   Steven Herrington, The Nature Conservancy

Abstract: Habitat degradation is a primary factor in the decline of biodiversity in aquatic ecosystems of the southeastern United States. Many of the rivers and streams in this region, which contain the highest aquatic biodiversity in North America, have been impacted by the effects of habitat degradation, alteration, conversion, and loss. An initial step in conserving and restoring natural function and biodiversity of rivers affected by habitat degradation is identifying those areas contributing to habitat degradation throughout the system. The Yellow River is a 177-km long, softwater river which flows through Alabama and Florida. Along with its major tributary, the Shoal River, the Yellow River primarily flows through forested and agricultural lands. The Yellow River watershed is noted for relatively high fish and mollusk biodiversity with seven species of fishes and mussels considered either low or declining in abundance by the State of Florida. Although historically considered a relatively undisturbed system, the Yellow River watershed is being impacted by a variety of nonpoint sources of pollution, sedimentation resulting from bank instability and road crossings, and drainage from domestic and industrial wastewater reuse facilities in the basin. These factors have increasingly contributed to habitat degradation, been identified as impacting federally listed and candidate species, and increasingly threaten aquatic biodiversity in the system. In addition, recent proposals have been made to construct a large reservoir in the main-stem of the Yellow River, which would severely degrade and/or destroy its riverine habitat, natural function, and biodiversity. We propose a two-phased project. We will (1) conduct an inventory and prioritization of impaired sites throughout the Yellow River watershed within Florida, and (2) restore one of the sites identified as a high-priority restoration location. The objectives of this project are to: (1) identify and inventory the location and magnitude of habitat degradation within the Yellow and Shoal rivers, including their major tributaries; (2) identify and inventory site-specific impairments and fish passage impacts at unpaved road crossings in the watershed; (3) develop restoration recommendations at each impacted location; (4) develop a prioritized Basin Restoration Plan for state, federal, and local agencies and private land owners for implementing conservation and restoration efforts in the basin, and (5) restore one of the sites identified as a high-priority restoration location during the assessment contingent on funding availability. The benefits of this project include: (1) prioritization of restoration areas within the watershed; (2) information relevant to the conservation and restoration of five candidate mussel species and the federally threatened Gulf sturgeon; (3) relationship between location of impacts with candidate and listed species distribution; (4) coordination of on-the-ground habitat restoration among conservation partners and local land owners; (5) on-the-ground restoration of a site which highly impairs the Yellow River and its resources, and (6) protection, conservation, and recovery of aquatic species within the Yellow River watershed.

Award Matching Funds Total
$80,700.00 $80,700.00 $161,400.00

Year Funded Starting Date Ending Date
2008 1/1/2009 12/31/2011

Location: Okaloosa and Santa Rosa Counties