Streamlining to Save Species

Streamlining the GDOT consultation process to help support imperiled aquatic species.

An interdisciplinary team at the River Basin Center (RBC) is working with UGA’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS), the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Georgia Department of Natural Resources and other partners to streamline the consultation process involving imperiled aquatic species potentially affected by GDOT construction projects that affect freshwater ecosystems. A streamlined consultation process will ensure that species receive protections that are most important to their life stage and specific sensitivities.

For every major project GDOT undertakes, including new bridge construction and replacement, the department must ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In addition to carefully managing erosion and sedimentation, GDOT generally prohibits its contractors from working in rivers and streams during the spawning season of protected animals, which can greatly extend construction time and costs. However, there has been no comprehensive review of whether these timing restrictions are beneficial and necessary, or whether other actions (such as improving stormwater management) would provide greater benefits.

GDOT awarded a contract to the RBC and IRIS to conduct a comprehensive review of the requirements of all 115 imperiled and vulnerable aquatic species in the state and of the requirements placed on GDOT projects that affect aquatic organisms. Principal investigators include Seth Wenger (Ecology), Brian Bledsoe (Engineering), Robert Bringolf (Warnell), Byron Freeman (Georgia Museum of Natural History), Katie Hill (Ecology) and Alfie Vick and Jon Calabria (CED). The project is coordinated by Jace Nelson and supported by staff and students across five units.

The project started in November 2018 and will take 16 months to complete. The final report will include recommendations for a programmatic agreement covering GDOT activities, which, if adopted, would substantially streamline the ESA consulting process and ensure consistent, effective protection of aquatic species.