Ethics in River and Stream Restoration: Biomimicry or Charade?

TitleEthics in River and Stream Restoration: Biomimicry or Charade?
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsPrager, R, McPhillips, M
Book TitleWorld Environmental and Water Resource Congress 2006
Date Published2006
PublisherAmerican Society of Civil Engineers
Publication Languageeng
ISBN Number978-0-7844-0856-8
AbstractThis paper will explore ethical issues facing designers offering services in river and stream restoration. The concept of biomimicry, or the effort to emulate natural processes in our designs has received intense interest in fields ranging from wastewater treatment to building design tc medicine. It is certainly true that over millions of years, nature has evolved sophisticated and elegant solutions to a host of challenges that those working in the built environment could and should study. There are several forms of mimicry currently at play in river and stream design. Some are based on direct emulation of channel form while others seek to mimic the many energy management strategies that streams use to achieve dynamic equilibrium. Recently our profession and allied disciplines have engaged in spirited discussion about form-based versus process-based design and the reported high failure rate of stream restoration projects. Maybe a more important discussion should address the completeness of mimicry in the failed projects. Is either of the two methods adequately performed in the different design approaches? It is likely that both approaches are valid in certain design circumstances; however, both are prone to failure if the mimicry is superficial. In discussions with private sector colleagues, it becomes increasingly clear that we operate in a business climate that accommodates and even encourages designers with very limited understanding of both stream mechanics and ecology. The training of too many designers is limited to a workshop that lasted from half a day to one week. In our experience it is common for designers little or no training in life or earth sciences to attempt restorations. These designers fall into two general groups, those that don't know what they don't know and those that don't care because the "stream restoration" marketplace is ripe for the picking. In this case, the design is not one of true mimicry but little more than an over-simplified charade. Our profession is now grappling with solutions. In this paper we will discuss the many options available including efforts to better educate designers, regulators and project owners. We could consider promoting more restrictive design requirements, design manuals and methods of practice. Still others are advocating a specialty registration for fluvial geomorphic engineers analogous to that for structural engineers and in some states, geotechnical engineers. Regardless of the specific path our allied professions choose, it is vital that we find a way to resolve the problem of designers working outside their expertise.