Developing a stream restoration proposal

Gabrielle David, Boston College
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Students spend the semester developing a stream restoration proposal for a local watershed. Students are asked to collect geomorphic field data and use these data to design a restoration plan.

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This activity was used an an upper-level undergraduate course on river restoration and management. There was no lab associated with this course, but this project can be modified to work in both a lab and non-lab course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students learned to use StreamStats to develop ability to assess watershed condition and history. In a lab based course, it would be useful to pair this exercise with learning ArcGIS. Students worked on problem sets earlier in the semester that helped them evaluate flow and sediment transport data. This exercise attempts to help students apply concepts such as shear stress and flow resistance to better understand bedload transport.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a semester-long project. The final paper and presentation is due the last class of the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This activity is designed to help students learn about process-based restoration, shear stress, flow resistance, bedload transport, bankfull discharge, and stable channel design.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  1. Students will learn to set project goals, assess the current and past condition of the watershed, identify problems and potential actions, review and select appropriate restoration techniques, and develop a design plan for restoration.
  2. Students will learn how to consider each aspect of developing a stream restoration project including identifying stakeholders and developing a budget.

Other skills goals for this activity

  1. Stream restoration projects are a collaborative effort, therefore students work in groups of 4 and collaborate on the development of their restoration proposal.
  2. Students also learn how to properly write a proposal for stream restoration and present their ideas to their peers.

Description and Teaching Materials

Stream restoration is a billion dollar industry in the United States. Many projects are implemented with little to no monitoring and reporting of project success or failure. The design and implementation of an effective restoration plan begins with identifying appropriate restoration goals. Goals can be as diverse as optimizing an area for recreational use to restoring the stream aquatic habitat. The first step to any rehabilitation plan involves a thorough analysis of the fluvial geomorphology, hydrology, sediment transport, and vegetative history of the basin to produce a picture of the past, present, and likely future state of the basin. All the many catchment stakeholders should be included in this stage of the planning. Sometimes, no action is taken if funds are limited for a basin. More often a balance between complete structural stabilization and no action is adopted. Students learn how to approach a stream restoration project by developing their own project for a small stream in Edmands Park, MA. Each group will develop a project based on different overall goals for how the channel and surrounding area will be used. Currently Edmands Park is used as an outdoor research laboratory for high school students and for dog walking.
Stream Restoration Project Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 674kB May30 14)
Grading criteria grid for final project (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 12kB May30 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This class did not have a lab component, but instead included two weekend field trips. One of those field trips was along a river where restoration projects had been implemented. This field trip was essential for helping students understand the process of developing and implementing a stream restoration project. The second field trip was at the students project site and allowed them to spend time collecting data. I also had stream restoration practitioners give talks about projects being implemented in Massachusetts. These practitioners gave students examples of restoration proposals. These examples were essential for helping students develop a budget for their proposal. At the end of the semester, students presented their proposal to the class and we voted on the best project. It was also extremely helpful to have the students turn in drafts of each of their sections throughout the semester. I would recommend giving shorter page limits. It would help to have the students turn in a summary of the field data and spend at least one class period going over how to interpret their results.


A grading criteria grid is shows how the proposals were assessed. The main part of the grade was from the project proposals, with a small portion allotted to the quality of their presentation. Rough drafts were not graded, only checked off that they were turned in on time.

References and Resources