Creating False Images: Stream Restoration in an Urban Setting


  • Paper No. JAWRA-12-0269-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).
  • Discussions are open until six months from print publication.


Stream restoration has become a multibillion dollar business with mixed results as to its efficacy. This case study utilizes pre- and post-monitoring data from restoration projects on an urban stream to assess how well stream conditions, publicly stated project goals, and project implementation align. Our research confirms previous studies showing little communication among academic researchers and restoration practitioners as well as provides further evidence that restoration efforts tend to focus on small-scale, specific sites without considering broader land use patterns. This study advances our understanding of restoration by documenting that although improving ecological conditions is a stated goal for restoration projects, the implemented measures are not always focused on those issues that are the most ecologically salient. What these projects have accomplished is to protect the built environment and promote positive public perception. We argue that these disconnects among publicized goals for restoration, the implemented features, and actual stream conditions may create a false image of what an ecologically stable stream looks like and therefore perpetuate a false sense of optimism about the feasibility of restoring urban streams.