Your Views: Natural channel design doesn’t protect forested stream valleys

Your Views: Natural channel design doesn’t protect forested stream valleys
Chesapeake Bay watershed (File photo)

To the editor:

Don Brady’s “Defending Rosgen’s design” in the Oct. 1, 2020 Alexandria Times missed the whole point as to adverse environmental impacts incurred when applying Rosgen’s “natural channel design” method to forested, upper headwater streams in our area. There is insufficient room here to really discuss the matter, so I’ll simply cite the words of a prominent former member of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Expert Panel.

According to Bill Stack, professional engineer, Center for Watershed Protection Deputy Director of Programs and co-lead in developing the “Recommendations of the Expert Panel to Define Removal Rates for Individual Stream Restoration Projects” with Tom Schueler of the Chesapeake Stormwater Network:

“I can no longer hide from the turmoil that I helped to create in the stream restoration industry. …This action unleashed an unprecedented flurry of stream restoration projects identified in Watershed Implementation Plans and MS4 implementation plans across the Bay watershed which are now being implemented by a thriving billion-dollar stream restoration industry comprised of engineers, hydro-geomorphologists, and a few biologists. I forgot to mention big-time financiers. Also, take notice of what I said about ‘few biologists.’

“Stream restoration today is the panacea for MS4 managers to meet their sediment and nutrient reduction commitments. …There is a big ‘however’ having to do with several major un- intended consequences. A severe training need exists among local and state governments, NGOs and practitioners in understanding their application and the appropriate siting of projects.

“Also, the Expert Panel felt strongly that as a qualifying condition to receive credit, projects have to be part of a comprehensive watershed plan that also addresses the root causes of stream bank erosion: impervious cover. Further, stream restoration projects are supposed to demonstrate ‘functional lift’ or improvement to the ecosystem.

“Generally, this is not happening, at least not to the extent that it should. Few biologists or ecologists are asked to participate in the design of stream restoration projects. As a result, municipalities are spending enormous amounts of money on projects that generate the necessary water quality credit but have no real impact on stream function. …I am not sure what it will take to make these projects part of an integrated watershed plan to provide functional lift beyond the sediment and nutrient credits. Perhaps this will come after we spend billions of dollars on these projects and the taxpayers ask, ‘why can’t I catch fish in this stream?’”

-Rod Simmons, ecological restoration specialist