Herring River Estuary Restoration Big Regional Project

Spanning 1,000 acres across the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Herring River estuary hosts one of the largest wetland systems on the Cape. (Friends of Herring River)

Spanning 1,000 acres across the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Herring River estuary hosts one of the largest wetland systems on the Cape. (Friends of Herring River)

By ecoRI News staff

A $700,000 Massachusetts state grant was recently awarded to help advance the restoration of the Herring River estuary in Wellfleet and Truro, one of the largest ecological restoration projects in the Northeast. The grant leverages a total of $985,034 in funding for the project in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center.

Spanning some 1,000 acres across the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Herring River estuary hosts one of the largest river and wetland systems on Cape Cod. In 1909, a dike was built across the river’s mouth, severing its connection to Wellfleet Harbor and the life-giving tides of the Atlantic Ocean. Without that connection, the salt marshes decayed, the river turned acidic, shellfish beds were contaminated by bacteria, and multiple fish kills resulted from low dissolved oxygen. The loss of tidal flow transformed this once-thriving and productive coastal ecosystem into the highly degraded landscape found there today.

The towns of Wellfleet and Truro are working with the National Park Service, the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) and other partners to revive the health of the Herring River and its wetlands. The project will rebuild the main dike at the river’s mouth and make other improvements across the estuary, allowing carefully controlled restoration of tidal flow to the ecosystem while protecting low-lying roads and other structures from flooding.

Reconnecting the estuary to the ocean will improve water quality, increase habitat productivity for fisheries and other wildlife, restore large areas of shellfish beds, and enhance boating, fishing, and other commercial and recreational opportunities, according to state officials.

“We look forward to the day when a restored Herring River estuary provides much-improved habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, river herring, white perch, and other fish and wildlife,” Department of Fish and Game commissioner Ron Amidon said. “The project will also greatly enhance people’s access to the natural environment by improving opportunities for shellfish harvest, fishing, boating, and other outdoor recreation.”

The DER grant will also support engineering design and permitting to prepare the project for construction. The project is being managed by Friends of Herring River, a nonprofit organization based in Wellfleet.