Conservation group pushes back against a stream restoration project in Alexandria

The Environmental Council of Alexandria, Virginia, is speaking out against the city’s Taylor Run Stream Restoration Project, saying it will cause more harm than help.

The goal of restoring Taylor Run is to improve area water quality, stabilize the stream corridor, enhance and conserve the stream ecology, all while working toward meeting Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals, according to the city.

But during a virtual discussion on the effects of the Taylor Run project, Chair of the Environmental Council of Alexandria Andrew Macdonald said studying past projects similar to Taylor Run, showed that they rarely improve the aquatic life of the streams.

“One of the reasons for doing these stream restoration projects is to make the stream healthier and better — the science doesn’t bear that out,” Macdonald said.

He explained the process of restoration and why he said it would be harmful.

“They come into these streams and basically tear up the channel, bulldoze it, add tons and tons of sediment. In the case of Taylor Run, they want to add something like eight to 10 feet of fill into the channel,” Macdonald said.

And he said that sediment can cause flooding.

“Imagine what happens when you fill in the stream with eight or nine or 10 feet of sediment when the stormwater comes down through this channel — which is much narrower and not as deep anymore? We’re going to have more flooding.”

Macdonald said the city used data from streams in other states to calculate how much phosphorous might be reduced by the project.

“This is part of the problem with stream restoration: A lot of it is based on sort of quick and dirty modeling because no one wants to spend the money, they just want the credit,” he said.

John Field, a nationally recognized expert on fluvial systems and stream restoration said that although the City of Alexandria assembled a wide range of specialists to help with the development, they left out a critical expert — a fluvial geomorphologist.

“A fluvial geomorphologist understands how the stream is responding to the urbanization in the watershed, but also how the stream might respond to a stream restoration project,” Field said.

He said the process being used is actually hurting the project.

“Adding sediment to the stream is moving the stream away from equilibrium, not towards it. So this is making the stream less stable not more stable counter to the objectives of the project,” said Field.

Tree steward and area conservationist Russ Bailey said flood-control facilities to provide water quality treatment, water retention mechanisms such as ponds, constructive wetlands and permeable pavement, are just a few alternatives to the project.

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