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RIVER RESTORATION: It's Possible!!!!

Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, 
among the beauties and mysteries of the earth 
are never alone or weary of life 
~RACHEL CARSON

Ecological restoration potential is constrained by societal and ecological factors. In this study, we developed a framework describing constraints that should be considered when designing and implementing river restoration projects. Restoration projects can establish realistic goals by systematically evaluating constraints such as river perceptions, ecological potential, economic requirements, and industrial development. We present the Presumpscot River, Maine, as a case study. The main stem of the Presumpscot River has 12% impervious cover (IC), where the highest percentages of IC are in the Back Cove watershed in Portland and in the Fore River watershed in Portland and South Portland (Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, 2010). This research and resulting website will provide a guide to those contemplating ecological restoration in a human-dominated system.
    
Restoration attempts generally occur within constraints imposed by rapid growth in urban populations, industrial and recreational use, and existing structures such as dams and roads that affect stream flow. Under these conditions, ignorance of regional land use and river history can lead to restoration that sets unrealistic goals because it is based on incorrect assumptions about a river’s reference condition or about the influence of persistent land-use effects. Knowledge of a river's history, including its ecological history and human settlement and industrial activity, is critical to understanding the river’s current condition and can lead to a restoration based on realistic goals.
   
R
estorationists can better understand the context within which the river system exists by studying the site's ecological history. They may use historic photographs of fish, historical reports and anecdotes, and chemical analysis of river sediments, among other tools, to get an idea of past river functioning. Using these tools will be required to set project goals, typically defined by a baseline condition from some point in history. Setting a baseline must rely on the scientific process, or goal-setting might be subject to "shifting baselines" that downplay the ecological potential of a river; if a local community never saw salmon in its nearby river, it may think salmon simply don't exist there, excluding the historically present species from restoration goals.
   
Rivers play an important role in the function and health of estuaries and coastal waters. It's important to consider these marine-freshwater linkages when developing restoration plans because water quality effects, such as nutrients, pollution, sediments, and water flow, may not be as clear until it reaches its end destination: the ocean.
The restoration of native anadromous fish has many benefits including the transfer of marine derived nutrients to fresh water systems, and providing food for piscivorous birds, wildlife, and predatory fish. Commercially anadromous fish can be harvested for bait and provide recreational opportunities.
   
The public's perception of a river can cause constraints when proposing river restoration. The public may feel a connection to the current use of the river, and may not want that to change. Human perceptions change over time, and can change with public outreach and education. Such outreach and education could help influence how the public values the river as well. It is important for the public to place some sort of value on the river in order to help justify a restoration effort.
   
Rivers provide habitat to a wide range of fish. Their assemblages can be analyzed to indicate accurate information on the function of a river, or the progress of a restoration process.  
    
A well designed effort to restore the Presumpscot must take into account the correct use of established environmental policy and regulation. While many laws provide useful tools to effect change, certain others may present obstacles if not thoroughly understood. Ultimately, care should be taken to ensure that policy-based solutions remain both equitable and adaptable.

    


This website was created as a part of the Senior Seminar course, ESP 475, at the University of Southern Maine in the spring of 2011 by the joint efforts of the following students: Todd Bartlett, Miranda Beaubien, Amanda Pratt, Stephen Coppins, Joshua Keough, Kristi Conroy, Leticia Smith, William Grob, Laura Reading, Gordon Lane, Kelsey Inzer, Leah Hartman, and Chris Rockwell.

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For information regarding this website please contact Dr. Karen Wilson, kwilson@usm.maine.edu