Despite the many benefits of stream restoration, the Department cautions stakeholders in relying solely on this practice to meet water quality goals. MDE encourages and has incentivized holistic approaches to watershed restoration. This includes a combination of both upland and in-stream practices. Upland practices can include a wide array of practices in rural, urban, and suburban watersheds, but generally speaking they include practices such as stormwater management retrofits, reforestation, tree planting, forested and grass stream buffers, urban soil restoration, cover crops, streamside fencing, and many more. Determining what practices are implemented, where they are implemented, and how many practices are implemented should be determined through a comprehensive watershed planning effort that utilizes an adaptive management framework. As it specifically relates to stream restoration, MDE recommends that the practice should not be implemented without prior consideration to other potential stressors upstream of a given project and after evaluating the individual, ecological benefits and costs of any given project. These considerations are reflected in MDE’s project permitting processes.
Stream restoration and watershed retrofits are both important to protect our water resources. Watershed retrofits are stormwater management features added close to the source to slow down and treat stormwater runoff. Watershed retrofits can help improve water quality in streams, but in urban watersheds, space to construct these features can be limited. Also, watershed retrofits cannot undo the damage that unmanaged stormwater runoff has already caused to local streams. Streams that have eroded down and widened in their channel will continue to do so, washing more sediment and nutrient pollution downstream, and threatening more trees along the stream channel.
Often stream restoration requires removal of the existing upland forest for the purpose of regrowing a floodplain forest. Because of this, stream restoration projects should consider:
- Forest Management plan to support regrowth of floodplain forest when the existing forest must be removed
- Considering a transition plan that allows the old forest to die off and be naturally replaced with floodplain forest