Scientific Data Supports River Restoration Efforts
Six Year Assessment of River Restoration Demonstrates the Benefits of Community Involvement & MonitoringNovember 13th, 2007
Laura Wildman P.E., American Rivers, (860) 652-9911
Washington, D.C. — America’s rivers are under assault. According to new research by a team of scientists at the National River Restoration Science Synthesis (NRRSS) 79 percent of rivers are affected by humans; another 19 percent are drowned by reservoirs, leaving just 2 percent unimpacted. More disturbing, 1 out of every 3 American rivers has been classified as impaired or polluted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Armed with facts like these, the benefits of river restoration shine through. Restoration can help rivers regain their dynamic and adaptable nature that has been lost through countless human impacts and allow a river to once again be resilient to change. In a world where climate change is a harsh reality, adaptability may prove critical to the health of our ecosystems. Exciting new research released by NRRSS recommends that river restoration projects focusing on truly obtaining measurable ecological benefits through project monitoring and adaptive management can have a positive impact on river health.
The NRRSS Project highlights many river restoration success stories and clearly demonstrates that projects with higher levels of community involvement and project advisory boards are much more likely to evaluate and document ecological improvements. Successes such as these could help to build a national program of strategic monitoring that would create a needed feedback loop between scientists, managers and practitioners, imperative to the future evolution of the science and success of river restoration.
“It’s a shame lawmakers are not providing to communities the money to share these wonderful success stories,” said Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers ™. “Without the necessary funds, the rousing round of applause these projects deserve is replaced with the sound of one hand clapping, and the other tied behind people’s backs”
NRRSS scientists are calling for more comprehensive restoration projects that obtain measurable ecological benefits. While federal and state funding for river restoration is growing, NRRSS scientists found that many projects weren’t monitored after their initial completion or in a manner that could be used to evaluate the project’s success, largely due to a lack of funds in each project’s budget. The scientists found that more projects mean increasing numbers of skilled and experienced restoration professionals in both the public and private sector and they encourage the development of funding sources which allow monitoring expenses as part of the comprehensive project budgets for restoration. This would allow for a more efficient transmission of valuable lessons learned from one project to enhance the likelihood of success of future projects.
“The practice of river restoration will be improved by integrating project evaluation with creative designs to generate increasingly effective projects,” said Emily Bernhardt, a NRRSS scientist and assistant professor in biology at Duke University.
“A clean and healthy river can be the engine the drives a booming economy,” added Wodder. “It’s exciting to see cities all across the country realize that when the river thrives, everyone else does to.”
The goal of the NRRSS project, which began in 2001 and wraps up with 11 papers in a special section of the September 2007 journal Restoration Ecology, has been to assess the current science and practice of river restoration across the United States.
The NRRSS project has made it clear that for river restoration to succeed, key principles to follow include having a holistic vision of a dynamic, healthy river and incorporating scientific knowledge into management actions. When best practices are accompanied by selective strategic monitoring as a tool for adaptive management and corrective measures are taken to ensure that goals are met, then ecological restoration can truly be obtained.