There is a strong scientific consensus that river corridors are badly damaged by societal impacts, costing the United States alone more than $76 billion per year and harming many species beyond assignment of any dollar value. In response to this problem, society has called upon governments, scientists, and private consultants to rehabilitate rivers. A scientific consensus has emerged that process-based rehabilitation within a watershed-scale context is highly important for a successful outcome. Unfortunately, the science underlying linked abiotic–biotic processes in rivers is still rudimentary, relative to the complexity of the ecosystem to design and build process-based solutions with the same success evident in the practice of medicine or the manufacture of buildings and other civil structures. Many existing practices have been vetted and found by scientific experts to be largely ineffective. Multiple paradigms for rehabilitation based on different combinations of scientific complexity, universality, and comprehensivity are diverging and splintering the technical community. Lacking a consensus among academic scientists and private practitioners, it is too soon to establish professional standards or regulatory requirements.
Pasternack Lab in River Rehabilitation Projects
Whereas geomorphologists have historically played the outsider role of ex post facto commentator and skeptical spoiler, it is now time to lead toward positive solutions. This requires a willingness to step outside of comfortable disciplinary boundaries and ivory tower ‘ought to’ mentality to take scientific risks that will yield the hallmarks of the next generation. For more than 14 years, my groups of students and researchers have participated in all phases of river rehabilitation projects. We have helped river managers, stakeholders, landowners, government regulators, non-governmental organizations, and others with river rehabilitaiton planning. We also have worked closely with project sponsors to design many individual projects to meet their needs, helped with project construction, and then followed up with post-project and longer term monitoring programs. Direct involvement in all phases of a project enables us to carefully ascertain whether project outcomes not only match people's expectations, but corroborate or refute underlying scientific concepts relied on in the project. This is where science, engineering, and natural law come face-to-face. The links below provide comprehensive information about the projects we have been involved in.