Riparian Reforestation in an Urbanizing Watershed: Effects of Upland Conditions on Instream Ecological Benefits

EPA Grant Number: R825798
Title: Riparian Reforestation in an Urbanizing Watershed: Effects of Upland Conditions on Instream Ecological Benefits
Investigators: Hession, W. C. , Kreeger, D. A. , Hart, D. D. , Newbold, J. Denis , Pizzuto, J. E. , Charles, Donald F. , Velinsky, D. J. , Horwitz, R. J.
Institution: Academy of Natural Sciences , University of Delaware
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: June 1, 1998 through May 31, 2001
Project Amount: $837,685
RFA: Ecosystem Restoration (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Hazardous Waste/Remediation , Land and Waste Management , Aquatic Ecosystems


The restoration of riparian forests has become a major focus of watershed initiatives and efforts to meet Clean Water Act goals. Funding is often available for restoration activity, with success measured as the amount of stream miles improved. Monitoring activities to measure the real ecological and environmental benefits are rare, and there is a real danger of wasting effort on techniques that are inappropriate for local conditions.


(i) To better understand the effects of riparian reforestation on the structure, function, and dynamics of stream ecosystems in urbanizing watersheds; (ii) To define exposure-response relationships for a suite of structural and functional stream ecosystem attributes based on the level of upland or contributing watershed urbanization (disturbance) for reaches with and without riparian forests; (iii) To develop two models (a reach-scale channel evolution model and an empirical screening-level model) to help local and state decision makers prioritize riparian reforestation efforts based on level of expected ecological benefit; and (iv) To measure and evaluate the rates at which various chemical, physical, and biological variables respond to riparian reforestation, thereby defining effectiveness criteria for a restoration activity that may take many years to be fully manifested.


This is an integrated, multi-disciplinary research project designed to evaluate the benefits of riparian reforestation in urbanizing watersheds. The study is linked directly to a large-scale, ongoing riparian restoration effort in the Schuylkill River watershed near Philadelphia, with established interactions between researchers and stakeholders. We propose to establish how upland disturbance interacts with riparian condition and how disturbance affects the potential efficacy of riparian reforestation. We will compare restored reaches, non-forested controls, and forested reaches within six watersheds spanning a gradient in watershed disturbance through a three-year natural experiment. Data from the natural experiment will be used to develop a reach-scale numerical model of river channel evolution that predicts the influence of vegetation on fluvial processes. We will also conduct a one-time sampling of 25 randomly selected pairs of reaches (forested and non-forested) to develop an empirical model relating instream conditions to riparian condition and watershed disturbance.

Expected Results:

The research will result in a better understanding of the linkages between urbanization, riparian forests, fluvial processes, and aquatic ecosystem health. In addition, this research will provide policy makers with key information about the scientific benefits of riparian forests as well as methods for targeting, prioritizing and, where necessary, supplementing, riparian reforestation efforts in urbanizing watersheds to achieve the highest level of ecological restoration. d. Estimated Improvement in Risk Assessment and Management (i) Identify key measurement endpoints for assessing urbanization and deforestation impacts on stream ecosystems; (ii) Construct exposure-response profiles for urbanization impacts on aquatic ecosystems as regulated by riparian forests; (iii) Develop predictive tools for prioritizing risks of riparian deforestation and benefits of restoration in an urbanizing watershed; and (iv) Provide improved data on specific stressors associated with urbanization, on exposure levels, on ecological effects, and on the benefits of restoration, for use in managing water quality in urbanizing watersheds.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 33 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

watershed, Schuykill River, restoration, reforestation, reparian, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Water & Watershed, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Restoration, Forestry, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration, Watersheds, Ecological Indicators, ecological exposure, risk assessment, riparian reforestation, forest, streams, watershed, reforestation, Riparian ecosystem, environmental assets, upland conditions, conservation, ecological recovery, riparian, aquatic ecosystems, economic, urbanizing coastal watershed, water quality, forested watershed, ecological benefits, environmentally stable landscape, public policy

Relevant Websites:

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1998
  • 1999 Progress Report
  • Final Report