Stream Restoration Site Selection – Balancing Competing Goods

As climate change, severe weather and Chesapeake Bay water quality standards increase in Virginia, stream restoration has been applied by localities, communities and environmental programs to meet ecological, mitigation and stormwater management goals. Stream restoration can be like open heart surgery to an ecosystem – intense, costly, yet potentially life-saving. Therefore, the proper selection of stream restoration sites is paramount to the efficacy of any restoration project. We don’t want do to more harm than good. Utilizing various tools such as the Rapid Stream Assessment Technique (RSAT) and the Bank Assessment for Nonpoint source Consequences of Sediment (BANCS) model can assist in identifying and prioritizing potential restoration reaches in a watershed; however, additional site-specific variables must also be considered before committing to a project, including, but not limited to: site-specific pollutant loads; the reach’s location in the watershed; the channel’s evolutionary successional stage; site access and potential forest impacts; community buy-in and environmental justice; fluvial geomorphological site constraints; adjacent wetlands and ecological assets; and other potential solutions to mitigate urban channel enlargement.

This presentation will discuss major and minor variables driving site selection for various stream restoration projects in the past several years throughout Virginia. Examples of completed projects, projects in the planning stage, and degraded stream reaches that have been left as-is shall be discussed. Stream restoration is one tool in our toolbelt, and we must apply it with care to balance competing goods and leave a holistic, positive impact on our environment.