Restoring Stream Ecosystems: Lessons from a Midwestern State

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Abstract

Reach-scale stream restorations are becoming a common approach to repair degraded streams, but the effectiveness of these projects is rarely evaluated or reported. We surveyed governmental, private, and nonprofit organizations in the state of Indiana to determine the frequency and nature of reach-scale stream restorations in this midwestern U.S. state. For 10 attempted restorations in Indiana, questionnaires and on-site assessments were used to better evaluate current designs for restoring stream ecosystems. At each restoration site, habitat and water quality were evaluated in restored and unrestored reaches. Our surveys identified commonalities across all restorations, including the type of restoration, project goals, structures installed, and level of monitoring conducted. In general, most restorations were described as stream-relocation projects that combined riparian and in-stream enhancements. Fewer than half of the restorations conducted pre- or post-restoration monitoring, and most monitoring involved evaluations of riparian vegetation rather than aquatic variables. On-site assessments revealed that restored reaches had significantly lower stream widths and greater depths than did upstream unrestored reaches, but riparian canopy cover often was lower in restored than in unrestored reaches. This study provides basic information on midwestern restoration strategies, which is needed to identify strengths and weaknesses in current practices and to better inform future stream restorations.

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