happy brook

blog post by jonas procton, design engineer

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time, there was a stream. It was not the biggest stream, but to the fish, beavers, and snakes that called it home, that did not make it any less special. Perhaps it was the water, kept cool under the shade of evergreens even through the summer. Or maybe the meandering banks, winding their way through a deep wooded valley blanketed under the soothing still of a comforting quiet. Whatever it was, something just made this brook a cozy spot to call home.

Paradise Lost

One day, things started to change for the brook. People started stacking big rocks, until eventually there was a small stone dam in the middle of the brook! The water in the brook could not meander like it used to and was forced to turn into a big pond just to get over the dam. Because of the dam, the water in the brook had to sit around in the hot, hot sun. The water was not as cold as it used to be, and the brook became a little sad.

As time passed, people wanted to build a road to get across the brook, so they  installed a culvert. A culvert is a pipe or a tube that helps a brook keep flowing, but also can support a road on top of it. They do a similar job to a bridge. Some culverts are helpful as they allow the brook to flow like it normally would.

Some culverts though… some culverts are are too small. Much too small! Small culverts cost less and are easier to install but all the water cannot fit inside, so it ends up making another pond on the upstream side of the culvert. The small culvert also makes a traffic jam for critters trying to swim up or downstream, sort of like going from a wide-open highway to a one lane dirt road.

In our story, the culvert in the brook was much too small. The fish would have to wait in line if they wanted to go through it. Some days when the water was too low, they could not even go through at all! The fish would have to wait and wait in the hot, hot water just to get through. That made the brook very sad…

How to Get to Happily Ever After

Fortunately, years later, scientists and engineers learned a lot about rivers since people put a dam and a culvert in the brook. There are a few rules or  Stream Crossing Standards that help determine how big to make a culvert to keep a stream flowing like normal and keep critters moving along with it.

One of the most important things: make it wide and tall, so it feels “open”. At brooks like the one in our story, our scientists and engineers take measurements at what is called a “reference reach” (a natural- section of the stream) to make an estimate of what the brook looked like before it was damaged. 

The Details…

One of the more important geometric metrics is how wide the stream is from top of bank to top of bank. This measurement is known as the “bankfull width” and shows how wide the stream would be to hold water during a really big storm – the type that might come only every couple of years. When we design a replacement culvert, we aim to be at least 20% wider than the bankfull width, just to be sure. This makes sure that there is enough space for fish, salamanders, and even teeny tiny worms to get through the new culvert under all but the biggest of floods.

Healthy, flowing brook


A stone dam on this Brook diverts flow and causes problems upstream


An undersized culvert


A culvert that is large enough for water to flow underneath with minimal disturbance

We also put at least two feet of native river bed materials on the bottom of the culvert to let animals get across the culvert safely. One other important rule is to make sure that the new culvert is both wide and tall enough so that it doesn’t “feel” so confined as to deter critters from passing through. This is based on a rule called the “openness ratio,” where we can do a calculation that tells us if the culvert will feel too long and skinny.

Happy Ending

With these rules as our guide, we do our best to design a new culvert and to remove the stone dam in order to help the brook from our story transform back closer to its fairy tale beginnings, all with the hope that the critters that live in the brook will get to live happily ever after.

This story plays out in many brooks, streams, and marshes across MA. Ecological restoration services aid in the recovery of ecosystems that have become impacted or degraded by past human activities. Our ecological restoration experts work with the state, town officials and nonprofit organizations to come up with a plan including funding options to help improve the area.

Email Jonas Procton, Design Engineer or Neal Price, Associate Principal, Sr. Hydrogeologist with questions about these services or to share your culvert story!


Related links:

Stream Crossing Standards

Stream Continuity

Dam Removal Feasibility Study-Ipswich

Riverfront Park and River Restoration-10 mile River


Living with Nature

Managing Invasive Plants & Adding Native Plants to your landscape

Recently, Kelly Moore, Marketing Director interviewed Ben Wollman, Environmental Scientist about invasive plants and how to add native plants to your landscape. Since many of us are spending time in the local nursery lately, we thought this would be a timely and informative conversation to share!

moore: Thank you Ben for taking time to talk about invasive and native plants. please Tell us about your background.

WOLLMAN: In 2009, I graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Science of Natural and Environmental Systems. I quickly found an intriguing entry-level position  as a Restoration Technician (RT) with a consulting/contracting firm whose primary focus was ecological restoration. Although my college classes had touched on the topic of ecological restoration, I knew very little about the field, but was excited for the opportunity to take a deeper dive. As an RT working with experienced restoration scientists, I gained invaluable experience with invasive plant identification and management, which is very important to successful restoration projects. In the 11 years since my initiation to this field, I have continued to gain experience and education, and currently hold a Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner (CERP) designation from the Society of Ecological Restoration.


MOORE: What is the problem with Invasive Plants?

WOLLMAN: They are non-native to New England, and they spread rapidly and aggressively, displacing native flora. They persist in natural landscapes and can take over the landscape. If they spread, they can cause habitat and biodiversity losses, water quality degradation, agricultural losses, decreased property values, lost, or diminished recreational opportunities, and damage to infrastructure, facilities, and equipment.


MOORE: What are some common invasive plants?

WOLLMAN: There are more than 3,300 invasive plants within the United States, but some of the common species found in the New England area include Common reed (Phragmites australis), Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), Purple Loosestrife (Lytthrum salicaria), Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), and Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).

MOORE: I recognize these plants as they are in the woods near my house. How do these plants spread?

WOLLMAN: Many plant invasions have occurred as direct or indirect result of humans traveling further and faster around the globe, as transportation technology has improved, and global interaction/interconnectivity has increased exponentially over the last couple of centuries. In many cases, non-native plant spread by humans is accidental (e.g., invasive grass hay/straw gets used as packing material for packages on a ship or plane), but there are also cases of intentional introductions for purposes such as landscaping, erosion control, and livestock feed. Typically, these intentional introductions occurred long ago, before there was as much knowledge of the repercussions; however, new invasions and spread continue to threaten native ecosystems today, more than ever.

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica)

Purple Loosestrife (Lytthrum salicaria)

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

Common reed (Phragmites australis)

Moore: Some of these plants look “ok” to the new gardener, even add beauty to some landscapes as they look like wildflowers. How do we encourage people to take a closer look?

WOLLMAN: It’s important to understand that invasive plants are not “evil” beings intending to wreak havoc on native plant communities. They are taking advantage of circumstances that allow them to out compete other plants for resources. I believe all plants have intrinsic value and beauty and should be appreciated as such; however, I feel strongly that we should not be sacrificing the ecological health of our natural (native) ecosystems so that we can enjoy the aesthetic value of a non-native species.

This is not to say that we should all ONLY landscape and garden with native plants. We should always consider alternative native options and be very mindful of the choices we make. There is room for compromise, allowing the best of both worlds. There are many amazing, beautiful, resilient native plants of all types (trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses) available to fill all the same functions that non-native plants have filled, with added benefits such as lower maintenance costs – less mowing, watering, fertilizing, increased habitat and food for native wildlife, improved water filtration and groundwater recharge, interesting landscape aesthetics, and more!  See our helpful links below for  resources to learn more about native .


Moore: Sounds good, once you realize you have some invasive plants what can you do to control them?

WOLLMAN: Once you have identified one or more invasive species on your property, use the resources at the links below to educate yourself further about the species. In many cases new invasions or smaller plants can be removed manually or mechanically (i.e., hand-pulling or mowing/cutting). For larger invasions or older/larger plants, it may be best to consult with a professional before doing anything. The most important factor in successful management of invasive plants is a dedication to continued control efforts over a multi-year period (typically 3-5 years), along with native replacement plantings soon after the initial invasive removal efforts have begun. Established native plants/plant communities will help keep the invasions in check by taking up space and resources that the invasives may have otherwise used themselves.

Enjoy these five photos of pollinator-friendly native plants from MA Audubon.

Take 5: Native Plants that Pollinators Love

related Links

Technical Resources:
Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health

USDA NRCS Plants Database

iMap Invasives

Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS)

The Nature Conservancy – Weed Control Methods Handbook

General Resources:

Grow Native MA

Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope

APCC Native Plant Site


Design Team Wins International Competition

Crook Point Bridge, Providence, RI

Earlier this year the City of Providence received 80 proposals from around the world to design the reuse of the Crook Point Bridge. Of the 80, five teams were asked to submit more details. HW designers Jon Ford, P.E., and Ellen Biegert, RLA joined forces with Jonathan Harris, Urban Designer and Professor at Johnson and Wales University to create concept designs. These designs were shared with the public for comment in early April. In June, the city announced the winning team — Jon Ford, P.E., Ellen Biegert, RLA and Jonathan Harris!

*The winning design boards can be viewed here.

Recently we submitted questions to the design team. Enjoy a few questions below as we promote this important project and share some design inspiration!


Do you have a personal connection to the Bridge?

ELLEN – I bike, walk, or run past the bridge several times a week. I’m amazed at the changes in colors and feel that can happen from day to day on the rusted structure and the surrounding river. Even though it has had its fair share of abuse, the Seekonk River offers such a beautiful calm setting that it’s possible to forget you are in a city.

JON – Well I haven’t climbed it (yet), but for the last 15 years I have been part of a group of neighbors advocating for improvements to this stretch of the Seekonk River shoreline just north of the Crook Point Bridge. Access to the water is a huge resource to the people of Providence, and like many post-industrial cities, much of our coastline is hard to access and has crumbling infrastructure. We started advocating for green infrastructure and a watershed plan in 2007 and put a plan together for pedestrian/bike and shoreline resiliency improvements in 2016. We’ve been helping search for implementation funding since.


Did the design incorporate any elements of Rhode Island history/culture? If so, how?

ELLEN – There were elements discussed during the design phase that would help tie the structure and site into the history of the corridor as railroad tracks. This included train station seating and use of the railroad ties throughout the site. However, the structure itself and its location on the Seekonk River is the best connection to the past and depiction of change over time. We wanted to maintain the rusted look during the day to keep the ‘in ruins’ appearance against the river background to remain as a reminder of the changes we’ve made to the land. Incorporating the interactive/programmable lighting at night, connects us to the present with the opportunity to depict culturally relevant topics.

JON – On a personal note, the bridge is a strong symbol of Providence – history and culture. Physical elements of a neighborhood or city like this bridge provide people a connection to where they live that is hard to put your finger on but important in terms of their sense of belonging and pride. This bridge is like that for Providence, to the extent that it’s on t-shirts and it’s on postcards. Often when we work on neighborhood planning and urban design projects, we’re seeking to recreate these postcard moments, so when we already have them, we should celebrate them!


Love the idea of the lights illuminating the structure at night, did something inspire this concept?

JON – Living in the area we have a sense of how the bridge is a visual touch point – even without lights. You can see glimpses of it from so many locations on both sides of the river, in Providence and East Providence. You can see it from the highway and the Henderson Bridge. As part of our research, we did a photo study showing various perspectives and it was remarkable how visible it is. So, we thought that celebrating the bridge had to include creative and flexible lighting.



If the bridge structure is a beacon, what does it say?

JON – We thought it was critical, and honestly – obvious, that the bridge lighting design should be flexible and allow for various voices and perspectives to be expressed. We had some ideas – including interaction with the lighting system from the piers and the ability for the bridge to reflect nature such as tides or sea level rise. But it was most important to us to provide a canvas that could adapt. As a result, that will help show that the shoreline and this special place will be welcoming to all. We illustrated a few examples on the submittal, as there are so many possibilities!


The interactive LED’s that show motion below the bridge sound like a great idea. Are there any examples of existing structures with similar real-time sensors to give people an idea of what this may look like?

JON – I have always been inspired by the work of Herbert Dreisetl, a German landscape architect. His designs elevate to the level of art, and one I remember him presenting at a conference was a reflecting pool for a small German town square. The design uses microphones in the square that trigger vibrations in the pool based on ambient sound levels, and lighting is designed to project the ripples in the pool onto the buildings that enclose the square. So, the background lighting is more animated during the day, or when there are events, etc. – and calm when the square is calm. Also, visitors can interact with the space in a unique way. This bridge is obviously a bit different, but for me, the idea of finding different ways to project activity in a public space is linked to that.



What part of the proposed design are you most excited about?

ELLEN – This is a hard question as I am excited about many parts of this design.  If I had to pick, I would  say the community element.  Community engagement and interaction are components we tried to weave throughout the entire design. Having spaces that encourage neighbors to engage through lights or other interactive art elements, can encourage community building and promote play for everyone – something we could all use. Also, this past year has proven how important it is to have flexible outdoor space for community gathering, mental health and is vital for a healthy city.

JON – That’s a good question. Once the project is built, I think what will be most exciting for me is to see people of various backgrounds, ages, life experiences, enjoying the shoreline in ways they never have been able to. If this is built as envisioned, it will mean a lot of different things to different people, and I look forward to seeing that result! I also can’t wait to bring my kids there and see them running up the pier to see the bridge up close. That will be truly amazing!


I see fishing and kayaking mentioned. Can you discuss the challenges of creating waterfront access for multiple uses and how this design addresses those challenges in creative ways?

ELLEN – Finding space for people to interact with the river while balancing restoration and multiple uses was approached by layering the benefits of each component. The accessible ramp that provides access for kayak users doubles as the path for seating, so the dock at the bottom could be utilized as a stage for small gatherings. The pier includes areas off the center walkway with space for someone to set up a fishing line and stay for a while without feeling like they are being crowded out. These little niches would include areas for fishing equipment and poles but when not in use, would appear to be an overlook and blend into the rest of the usable space.



The design is super cool. I especially like the shout-out to bouldering as a potential use near the tunnel. Providence has one of the best bouldering sites in the area (Lincoln Woods) and there are at least 3 climbing gyms in the area, so this is a great opportunity to share the sport with folks who might not be able to access those other places to climb.  Are they proposing real boulders, or some artificial set-up?

ELLEN – Thanks! The back tunnel area has a lot of potential to become a unique feature and incorporating a use that people seek out is important for activating the space. Bouldering and climbing could fit this space well and having more locations in the city may help the community grow. As far as the specific material, there aren’t existing natural features, and the specifics for layout and material would be developed with the local community who would be using it, as well as balancing choices with other goals such as maintaining canopy and incorporating art elements.


Do you have any more details to share about the mixed-use housing (i.e., funding source, NGO; timeline, etc.)?

JON – We proposed the mixed-use housing as an aspirational idea for the City’s consideration. This idea will require more thought and discussion to become a reality! We included it because we think more activity will help bring more people to the shoreline 24-7, providing much-needed housing, helping to activate the public spaces, creating safety through having more “eyes on the street”, and helping generate tax revenue for the city. It will also make the public spaces livelier if they have commercial space woven in – like cafes, restaurants, and maybe even small-scale shops.



Who will be designing the art pieces that get installed? Will they be local?

JON – We think it should be a requirement that art pieces should be designed locally. There is great precedent for that with public art in the City via , Arts, Culture, and Tourism, the Avenue Project  and much more. That will be another element that defines the space that remains authentically Providence and welcoming to all. The process is to be determined, but it could also be evolving where pieces rotate in and out over time.

Ellen Biegert, Jon Ford, Jonathan Harris, Jason Rainone