River Restoration and Management

Gabrielle David,
Boston College


This course focuses on one of our most fundamental resources, rivers, and the science behind management and restoration. We investigate qualitative, quantitative, and statistical methods used to understand the exciting complexity of river processes and applications of these methods to management plans. Furthermore, we explore how restoration of river form is related to aquatic habitat restoration in the channel and surrounding wetlands.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an upper-level undergraduate course with some introductory geology and/or biology prerequisites. Students take this course as part of their environmental geoscience or environmental studies degree.

Course Content:

The earth and environmental sciences course focuses on geomorphology and also covers some hydrology, ecology, management, and policy. The course includes two weekend field trips that allow students to understand how restoration projects are developed and implemented.

Course Goals:

  1. Gain the ability to develop a stream restoration project and be able to discuss how to implement and monitor the project
  2. Describe stream and river behavior and response to alterations across different spatial and temporal scales using quantitative and qualitative models
  3. Understand and be conversant in describing interactions between physical and ecological processes in streams and rivers
  4. Improved speaking, writing, and critical thinking skills in the context of interdisciplinary water resources issues
  5. Exposure to the primary scientific literature and current themes in river restoration research

Course Features:

The culminating project for the class is to develop a stream restoration proposal for a small stream on college campus. The stream included an old dam and two road-stream crossings. Students learn the process of collecting field data and applying their observations to help make management decisions.

Course Philosophy:

I designed this course to enable students to take scientific data and be able to use it for management purposes. I was particularly interested in helping students to develop their scientific speaking and writing skills. Students have to apply their knowledge of the science of how rivers work to the development of a restoration proposal, which needs to be understandable to many different types of stakeholders.


Students are assessed through a combination of work, including the development of a stream restoration proposal. Students are required to read and discuss primary scientific literature. Problem sets and two exams are also used to help assess how well students understand the science behind river function. The development of a proposal and a final oral presentation helps me to assess whether students are able to apply that knowledge to management and how well they can communicate their findings.


River Restoration and Management Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 309kB Jun3 14)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Stream and watershed restoration: a guide to restoring riverine processes and habitats, edited by Philip Roni and Tim Beechie
The text provides background on stream processes and on how to develop a restoration plan.

Many other scientific articles were chosen to supplement the textbook. During days that we discussed articles, students were separated into four groups and each read a different article. They then came together to explain and discuss these articles with each other. Usually a handout was provided to help them with the discussion.