Urban Stream Design for Interactivity

Whitney Thomas, PE, CFM, ENV SP, Project Manager, Timmons Group

At the root of much debate surrounding ecosystem restoration projects is whether we are restoring to a condition solely for natural habitat or whether the restoration should be designed for human interaction.  Considering these perspective, as well as the future needs at the project site,  are important when determining site-specific design objectives.  Many streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are in urban areas that have had decades of modifications, resulting in streams fed primarily by stormwater outfalls.  These are often located adjacent to buildings and are prone to flooding due to the floodplains having been narrowed and developed.  However, the streams in these areas are often a location for multiple forms of recreation in addition to providing greenways where animal habitat is often condensed.  The urban stream is often the most accessible waterway and green space to many people in urban areas.  Visitation and interaction with streams and waterways have been found to provide alleviation from urban heat island effects, an opportunity for stress relief through recreational activities, and reduction in anxiety and attention fatigue.  The inclusion of human accessibility and interactive components, in addition to restoring stream pattern, profile, habitat, and biodiversity, are components of ecosystem restoration design in urban areas.  This discussion will review urban stream design challenges and opportunities where we intend to  re-establish riverine pattern and profile and habitat, while incorporating elements to encourage human interaction, and balance regulatory requirements.

Author Bio

Whitney Thomas is a Project Manager in Stormwater at Timmons Group with an interest in stream and ecological restoration, green infrastructure design, and Chesapeake Bay TMDL compliance related projects. She enjoys working with urban and rural stakeholders alike to improve hydraulic drainage and stream systems, improve water quality, and to integrate natural systems with urban needs in design. She has over 13 years’ experience, with background work in Floodplain Management, Municipal (MS4) and NPDES Permitting and Program Support, Dam Safety, TMDL Compliance, Grant Assistance, Stormwater BMP Planning and Design, and Watershed Analyses, amongst other work.