Stream Doctors and Restoration Gurus

Two recent articles on stream restoration got me thinking about the need for more people who are trained to understand how to bring rivers back to life. The first appeared in The New York Times on June 24. It quotes scientists who decry the thousands of riparian habitat restoration projects going on in the U.S. without an adequate understanding of the challenges and opportunities. “‘… an awful lot of stream restoration, if not the vast majority of it, has no empirical basis,’ said William E. Dietrich, a geomorphologist at University of California, Berkeley, who studies rivers and streams. ‘It is being done intuitively, by looks, without strong evidence. The demand is in front of the knowledge.'” (Be sure to look at the Multimedia graphic which shows how dams create long-term problems for stream recovery.)
The second article, from July 3, describes “riparian restoration guru” Bill Zeedyk, whose new book project “Let the Water Do the Work” is written around the idea of “induced meandering.” “In a two-hour conversation about rivers, Bill Zeedyk never once uses the word ‘water.’ Instead, the stocky, soft-spoken septuagenarian speaks of a river as if it’s an animal — one that migrates in seasonal floods, erodes banks to make room for itself, and struggles to evolve a level of flow that will nurture the surrounding habitat.”
Maybe I’m still buoyed by lingering optimism from the U.S. Sugar buyout in south Florida, but both articles leave me encouraged. As the science grows, it is more obvious than ever that rivers and streams are critical components of a well-managed society. Who knows? Maybe our kids will have a chance to get doctorates in stream restoration, if the demand continues to grow.

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  • River restoration is a controversial word at best. In my 35 years of being involved in river works of one sort or another it usually ends up as a land owner protection program.
    Rivers are a meandering powerful force that man has tried to manage for more years than I have been on this earth. We try to save bugs, birds, fish, trees, turtles and yes of course land. The river always moves it’s own way…giving and taking and always will.
    Let the river be the river, don’t dam it (or damn it)!
    Ray Schmidt
    Wellston, Michigan