Case Study:
Helping Endangered Species

Location: American Water Systems Across the Country Help Endangered Species

Being a steward of the environment is a fundamental part of what American Water and its state subsidiaries are, and what they do every day. Managing and protecting the environment they operate in is of the utmost importance, and protecting the species living within that environment is something that is taken very seriously.

American Water’s research and environmental programs are considered among the best in the world. In 2007 the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of its formalized program that dedicates resources to innovation and environmental stewardship.

The special projects that have been developed have brought the company awards and accolades and, more importantly, they show American Water’s strong and enduring commitment to the environment. American Water routinely works within the communities it serves to identify important local projects to support. In 2005, the company initiated an innovative environmental grant program to fund local environmental groups for a variety of protection and educational efforts.

Sustainable use of natural water sources is essential to protect the environment, the resource itself, and supports the company’s policy on environmental stewardship. American Water and its subsidiaries not only comply with all relevant environmental laws and regulations, but also actively work to protect and restore threatened and endangered species like the ones below each and every day. American Water’s primary mission is to provide high-quality water and wastewater services to its customers while protecting and enhancing the environment within the company’s service areas.

Karner Blue Butterfly

In 2004, Indiana American Water developed the Habitat Conservation Plan, a partnership with the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that helps protect the habitat of the Karner blue butterfly, a rare species found in parts of Northern Indiana and several other states. The butterfly, which was added to the federal Endangered Species list in 1992, inhabits the Northern Indiana Dunes area adjacent to Lake Michigan. These fragile dunes are home to the wild lupine, the only plant the Karner blues feed on. The tiny, nickel-sized butterfly relies on wild blue lupine as a place to lay eggs and as a source of food for caterpillars. The Karner blue feeding habits make them unique, but severely restrict areas where they can survive. The Karner’s natural habitat has been degraded due to land development and the lack of natural disturbance – namely wildlife grazing and wildfire – which helps maintain the lupine by suppressing reforestation.

The Habitat Conservation Plan which was approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2005, provides long-term habitat protection to the federally endangered species. The plan protects and conserves 86 acres of high-quality butterfly habitat, some of which is located on Indiana American Water property in Lake and Porter counties. Under the terms of the plan, Indiana American Water’s Northwest operation has adopted vegetation management practices to preserve the butterfly habitat along a pipeline easement that is home to the butterfly. The easement gives NIPSCO the access necessary to maintain their assets and equipment in the area. The plan ensures minimal disturbance to the property, as well as encourages new plantings to grow and thrive.

California Red-legged Frog

The Carmel River in Monterey, California is home to the Red-legged frog, a species that was classified as threatened on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered Species list in 1996. In 1998, California American Water partnered with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to develop a plan to help protect and restore the frogs and their habitat to the areas of the river affected by company operations.

Monterey’s main source of water supply is the Carmel River. The area is one of the most supply- challenged areas in the American Water footprint, as well as the entire country. Supply and flow into the Monterey Peninsula area is managed by two dams – the Los Padres and the San Clemente. The area, owned and maintained by California American Water, counts on the rainy season – October through May – to fill the river and provide raw water for treatment and delivery to customers for the entire year. California American Water works diligently each year with local, State, and Federal regulatory agencies to properly manage the dam releases that provide water to area residents and businesses. As the releases happen, the habitat and safety of the frogs is closely monitored and supported.

The California Red-legged frog ranges in size from one and a half to five inches long, and is the largest species of frog in the western United States. They became endangered due to hunting, land development and the introduction of predator species such as the bullfrog and various game fish species.

The frogs require still or slow-moving water and need the more shallow, pooled areas of the river to thrive and survive. Too much water, as well as too little water, can threaten their environment. Protecting the frogs, while still being able to provide water to the community, is of the utmost importance. In order to do this, California American Water worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Cardno Entrix (formerly Entrix), an environmental consulting firm, to develop a plan to rescue frogs and tadpoles that become caught in areas of the river lacking the optimal amount of wetness.

The rescues involve the relocation of adversely affected frogs and tadpoles to preapproved areas of the river that are more suitable for the species, as well as the active protection of existing areas suitable to them. California American Water conducts annual surveys of the river and its operational effects on the adult frogs and tadpoles. To date, California American Water has invested thousands of hours and millions of dollars to protect the wildlife and habitat of the Carmel River.

California Steelhead Trout

The California Steelhead trout also makes its home in the Carmel River in Monterey, California and was classified as threatened on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered Species list in 1997. The Steelhead trout are unique in that they are the one species of fish that start life as a freshwater fish, end life as a saltwater fish and can complete the migration cycle up to three times as opposed to once for other species of the Salmonid family of fish.

Like the California Red-legged frog, the challenges of the Carmel River and the Monterey Peninsula water supply adversely affect species of fish. There has been extensive loss of populations in most of the major watersheds, due to agricultural development, urbanization, poaching, dewatering and modification of rivers and creeks. A significant portion of the spawning and rearing habitat has been rendered inaccessible as a result of dams, and other instream structures which block or impede migration, especially during the dry season, when water is not freely flowing.

Working in conjunction with Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA), California American Water is working diligently to protect the trout by coordinating annual rescue and relocation efforts and investigating the potential benefits of rerouting the Carmel River.

California American Water has invested thousands of hours and millions of dollars to protect the wildlife and habitat of the Carmel River. Such efforts include changes to the operation of the water system itself. During the summer months when the river runs dry, the company shifts its pumping to downstream wells, allowing the river to stay wet as long as possible in its upper-reaches, where fish that have been stranded downstream are relocated in annual rescue efforts led by the volunteers of the Carmel River Steelhead Association, Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) and California American Water.

With funding from the company, MPWMD also works to restore the natural habitat and manages a Steelhead rearing facility, where volunteers relocate endangered and stranded fish.

A multi-year project is underway that will address the re-arrangement of the Carmel Valley production facilities, including the dismantling of the San Clemente dam, to improve the Carmel River habitat for Steelhead trout and the California Red-legged frog. This project is required by the Conservation Agreement with National Marine Fishery Services and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and is fully supported by California American Water. The estimated the cost of this alternative project is approximately $85 million. The reroute and removal project has received a great deal of support from resource protection agencies, as well as environmental protection groups such as the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy, the Carmel River Steelhead Association and the California Planning and Conservation League. By removing the dam, Steelhead will have unimpaired access to over 25 miles of natural spawning and rearing habitat.

California American Water also maintains fish ladders and traps on the two existing dams, which help fish to traverse the river unimpeded. Volunteers move the fish up from the drier portions of the river to a facility and release smaller ones into the river just below the San Clemente dam. Samples of fish fins are taken at the holding tanks to check for repeats.