Cheap and Cheerful Stream Restoration

Restoration with Beaver and Traditional River Restoration

What is River Restoration and what does it do?

The term river restoration has been used to describe a wide variety of alterations to the immediate river environment and adjacent riparia and floodplains as well as to sediment, solute and water delivery to river systems. Similarly, the goals of restoration efforts encompass are varied, and include:

  • Aesthetics
  • Recreation
  • Bank Stabilization
  • Channel Reconfiguation
  • Dam removal
  • Fish Passage
  • channel-floodplain connectivity
  • Flow alteration
  • Instream habitat improvement
  • Species recovery

There is extensive management and academic literature on historical and contemporary restoration practices that is not covered here. We use the term traditional restoration here to denote restoration projects that have relied on highly engineered solutions that tend to rely on heavy machinery, are characterized by high costs, and tend to impose specific channel forms rather than attempting to restore critical physical and biological processes. By contrast the approach outlined here and referred to as “Cheap and Cheerful” is a minimally invasive, cheap, and simple approach to restoration. Cheap and cheerful restoration projects are generally intended for low wadeable (low order) streams. In other words, streams and rivers where beaver can build dams. Cheap and cheerful restoration is not appropriate everywhere. Unlike traditional restoration where a spatially “large” project may treat 10^0 - 10^1 kilometers of stream, cheap and cheerful projects are intended to be able to treat 10^1-10^2 kilometers of stream, not be imposing a form but by initiating some of the physical processes that, over time, lead to healthy and resilient river ecosystems.

When to use Cheap and Cheerful Restoration- general principles

Choosing the appropriate restoration methods is essential to successful restoration. Cheap and cheerful techniques are inappropriate (in addition to being unfeasible) in many locations (See below). However, we believe there are many thousands of stream kilometers where a cheap and cheerful approach is warranted.

Uncertainty, the precautionary principle and adaptive management Cheap and cheerful restoration is based on the idea that healthy riverine ecosystems are dynamic. In other words the interaction between flow, wood, riparian vegetation, sediment delivery, etc are continually reshaping habitat, and that dynamism is precisely what creates healthy systems.

When NOT to use Cheap and Cheerful Restoration