Mounting Evidence That “Stream Restoration” Does Anything But

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, March 19, 2022.

At a recent Maryland Sierra Club meeting Ken Bawer gave a presentation: “The Greenwashing of Stream Restorations”.

Bawer summarized the reasons he opposes this destructive practice as follows:

  • “Stream restorations” don’t restore streams either physically or biologically. They import foreign material, and destroy riparian ecosystems that can’t be recreated by re-planting trees.
  • “Stream restorations” don’t address the root cause of stream bank erosion namely, fire-hosing stormwater into streams from impervious surfaces such as roofs and roads.
  • Clearcutting even impaired forests as collateral damage to do a so-called “stream restoration” won’t work. In fact there is ample evidence from around the region that these so-called “stream restorations” get destroyed by future storms.
  • The way to “fix” streams is to control stormwater by using out-of-stream practices such as raingardens, bioswales, permeable pavement, and tree planting.

As for the notion that streambed restoration is needed to get federal MS4 permits, Bawer says there are dozens of other ways to meet MS4 permit requirements using non-destructive out-of-stream practices like those described above.

Alexandria is no longer pursuing “stream restorations” for Taylor Run and Strawberry Run. Not so Arlington County, which recently doubled down on the practice by clearcutting more than 80 trees from the site of Donaldson Run Tributary B off Military Road in North Arlington.

So why should you care? So-called “Stream restorations” are a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. They destroy tree canopy in your neighborhood and increase the heat island effect, degrade your quality of life, and erode the value of your property. Stand with the other residents in the County who reject this destructive practice. Say no to the Board’s misguided policy on this important issue.


Lisa Fraley McNeal, Bill Stack, et. al., “The Self-Recovery of Stream Channel Stability in Urban Watersheds due to BMP Implementation,” March 2021, Prepared by the Center for Watershed Protection, Inc.

Hilderbrand, Robert H., et. al., “Quantifying the ecological uplift and effectiveness of differing stream restoration approaches in Maryland,” Final Report Submitted to the Chesapeake Bay Trust for Grant #13141, 2020

Pedersen ML, Kristensen KK, Friberg N (2014), “Re-Meandering of Lowland Streams: Will Disobeying the Laws of Geomorphology Have Ecological Consequences?”

Kaushal, Sujay S. et. al., 2018, “Tree Trade-offs in Stream Restoration Projects: Impact on Riparian Groundwater Quality,” University of Maryland, State University of New York ESF, Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration, 2018 Presentation

Palmer, M. A. et. al., 2014, “Ecological Restoration of Streams and Rivers: Shifting Strategies and Shifting Goals,” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. 2014. 45:247–69

Laub, B.G, McDonough, O.T, Needelman, B.A., Palmer, M.A., “Comparison of Designed Channel Restoration and Riparian Buffer Restoration Effects on Riparian Soils,” Restoration Ecology, Vol. 21, Issue 6, November 2013

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