NANFA-L-- The myth of restoration?

Dave Neely (
Thu, 05 May 2005 17:15:07 -0500 this morning I dragged some gear out to a small nature center here in
St. Louis to do a fish inventory as a favor for a friend. The center is
nice, and doing some really neat stuff with native plants, but happens to be
along a heavily degraded urban stream. The stream was clear, and flow was
extremely low (~ 0.5 cfs). Substrate included some nice cobble, chert
gravel, silt, and intricately shaped bedrock; sparse mud/clay in deeper
pools. There were some sparse patches of Justicia and a lot of funky greyish
algal mats (I don't even want to think about what the fecal coliform levels
were like). We rounded up a grand total of seven species, not including a
bullfrog and a large snapping turtle. The list was a who's-who of tolerant
taxa - central stoneroller, red shiner, fathead minnow, creek chub, white
sucker, green sunfish, and bluegill. No darters, no fun minners, not even a
silly bullhead!! The banks were blown out to-in-least 2 m higher than the
water level, and there was recent flood debris even higher. Outside curves
were scoured clean, with a lot of bare mud. Not the worst I've ever seen,
but certainly not good.

When you're constrained by only having access to a bit of downstream area
along a creek, how can you expect to make any meaningful restoration to a
stream channel? Yeah, you might be able to stabilize the banks a little, but
only if you can get stuff growing between storm events. Even if you do,
what's the point of having perfectly Rosgen-balanced channels when your
water chemistry is totally screwed up? How do you fix water chemistry when
50% of your upstream watershed is impervious surfaces - shopping malls,
highways, and asphalt parking lots? Seven species is a lot when you consider
this stream probably gets a 20 degree temp shock with every midsummer storm
event. We managed to do a fun little show for a couple of school groups who
happened to be touring the grounds, but I'm just depressed and a little
angry. The contrast between the really nice nature center and the crappy
stream was just too stark. Systems like this aren't going to get fixed on a
timescale that's reasonable to any of us, and certainly not on the
mythological EPA "swimmable waters" timescale.

Sorry to be so down. One thing's for sure - playing in that cesspool today
will certainly make me appreciate the crystal streams of the 'Zarks next
month that much more...


/ This is the discussion list of the North American Native Fishes
/ Association (NANFA). Comments made on this list do not necessarily
/ reflect the beliefs or goals of NANFA. For more information about NANFA,
/ visit Please make sure all posts to nanfa-l are
/ consistent with the guidelines as per
/ To subscribe, unsubscribe, or get
/ help, visit the NANFA email list home page and archive at