URBAN STREAM RESTORATION PLANS – A LOCALLY DRIVEN PROCESS TO RESTORE URBAN STREAMS

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Abstract:

As proposed in this paper “urban stream restoration plans” and accompanying proposed “urban standards” are steps in a comprehensive effort to restore the beneficial uses of urban stream by initially focusing on those benefits that are most closely tied to community goals. The proposed concept applies to streams and other water bodies that are not able to attain current water quality standards as a result of their watersheds being dominated by urban land uses.

The author previously presented work that describes the root problems typically found in urban streams and suggests innovative goals and end points to guide restoration efforts (Stumpe, 1998). This previous work, which is briefly reviewed in this paper, suggests new approaches for recreational use standards and aquatic use standards. For certain urban streams, recreational use standards would be more effective in protecting public health by directing regulatory efforts to maintain high quality waters during dry periods and by being formatted to facilitate management of contact recreation activities during wet weather. Biological criteria are potentially very useful as goals and alternative end points if appropriate urban reference criteria are developed. An interim goal may be as straightforward as establishing stable stream morphology.

This paper focuses on practical aspects of implementing an urban stream restoration effort within the existing U.S. regulatory framework. A causal loop diagram for a community driven watershed restoration process is developed and used to analyze why current regulatory mechanisms are often counterproductive to community efforts. Drawing upon this analyses, literature references, and the author's own experience in managing public interaction in watershed planning processes, criteria are developed as a guide to build a model for an effective restoration program. A reiterative approach to improving the total integrity of the ecosystem is suggested. Community values are suggested as defining elements in setting interim goals and end points for the stream restoration efforts. A major challenge is breaking through political, institutional, and regulatory barriers to get to the most important work in the watershed. Often the most important work involves changing land use practices -- an area in which the Clean Water Act provides little regulatory authority. The suggested process envisions the development of tailored water quality standards, most likely site specific, as a means of institutionalizing and supporting a community developed urban stream restoration plan.

Current water quality standards typically provide little targeted direction to guide the restoration of urban streams. The typical defense offered for current water quality standards is that even if they don't address urban issues, the projects that they drive do have beneficial impacts on urban streams. However, the large sums of money that are required to address urban watershed problems suggests that water quality standards should represent goals that provide real direction for restoration and management efforts. Following a risk management model, best available science should be used to propose realistic intermediate goals and restoration end points. This approach is substantially different from seeking a temporary variance to traditional water quality standards that lack an urban focus and are most likely unachievable in any practical time frame.

While there seems to be a growing agreement that standards need to be adjusted to address specific urban problems, progress in adopting alternative urban standards has been slow. For instance, a number of municipal water quality management agencies are frustrated by the lack of state progress in refining water quality standards as envisioned in USEPA's combined sewer overflow policy. The paper proposes an initiative to giving municipalities some control in the process of developing urban stream restoration efforts and in crafting supporting water quality standards. Specifically, this paper proposes developing urban stream restoration plans as elements of a water quality management plan in conformance with section 208 of the Clean Water Act. The logic and advantages of using the 208 process as a catalyst and vehicle for developing innovative urban stream restoration processes are reviewed. The regional perspective of the 208 process assures a measure of balance in the plan to protect downstream uses. Further, while direct authority to require land use controls is not derived from section 208 of the Clean Water Act, water quality management plans can be a vehicle for local land use initiatives.

The concepts discussed are currently proposed for adoption as part of an update to the Water Quality Management Plan for the greater Cleveland area. Under the proposal, the process of developing a restoration plan is initiated at the local level with support of the regional 208 planning agency. A restoration plan, along with an alternative water quality standard proposal, would be reviewed and adopted as an amendment to the area's water quality management plan. Building upon the work at the local and regional level, the state would be expected to undertake the necessary use attainability analysis and rule making processes to consider the proposed water quality standard.

The final section of the paper addresses specific questions about the effectiveness of the proposed restoration program and the concept of urban standards in general. A typical concern is that urban standards will result in lower quality urban streams. The paper suggests that approaches that focus on the most important elements of stream resource protection and restoration offer the best hope for long-term stream health. Processes that engage the local community can trigger interest in continuing the improvement process.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864700785150187

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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