Hydrologist resurrects streams by going with their flow


In a field near a busy Cockeysville road, David L. Rosgen led a "class" of environmental officials to a gurgling stream snaking through snow-covered grass this week.

The stream known as Goodwin Run represented 31 years of work to Mr. Rosgen, who devised techniques of breathing life into dead and ailing brooks, streams and rivers by restoring their natural meander. It also represented a $180,000 investment by the state.

His field trip brought 40 local, state and federal environmentalists to several Baltimore County streams, including Goodwin Run, Thursday morning -- all braving blustery winds and near-freezing temperatures to study the effectiveness of restoration projects based on Mr. Rosgen's techniques.

It was hard to tell that the meander of Goodwin Run -- a stream considered lifeless six years ago -- was not put there by nature, but by a firm known as Brightwater Inc. in a project begun in 1992.

Now there is hope that brook trout will return in five years or so to Goodwin Run, a tributary of Beaverdam Run.

"If Mother Nature can make a stable channel, then so can we," Mr. Rosgen said. "We just have to emulate its stable, natural form.

"It's a sensitive business," said Mr. Rosgen, who wore a white cowboy hat and a leather holster with such tools of his trade as pencils, paper and a calculator. Mr. Rosgen of Pagosa Springs, Colo., has been called a cowboy hydrologist in his travels around the country teaching environmentalists his techniques.

"A lot of traditionalists would like to see this method fail because they'd like to see concrete and steel-wired rock gabions controlling the flow of a stream. That's the technique they were taught in school, but using this technique, you can have an urban area with a natural scene."

In the case of Goodwin Run, the stream had to be moved for construction of an extension to Warren Road. An initial proposal from the State Highway Administration had the stream running straight through the adjacent field contained by gabions, but the agency decided Mr. Rosgen's methods were more aesthetically pleasing and affordable.

James Gracie, an environmentalist consultant and Rosgen disciple, was called in to do the work. Using tree roots, boulders and logs to naturally restore the stream's banks, Mr. Gracie's bTC Catonsville firm rebuilt the stream and redirected its flow. Willows were planted on each side to provide it future shade. The job, at $180,000, cost less than a third of what it would have if traditional methods had been used, he said.

Mr. Gracie's mentor complimented him and advised him on how to improve the work on Goodwin Run.

"Besides having to fix the elevation of the flood plains, we did a pretty good job so far," said Mr. Gracie, an avid fisherman who gave up a career in chemistry to work on saving the Chesapeake Bay and the smaller Maryland waterways that ultimately feed into it.

"A lot of the damage to Maryland's 17,000 miles of rivers and streams was done long before you or me were born," Mr. Gracie said. "Now it's our job to fix that before it gets any worse, and I think we can do that best by using Dave's methods."

Mr. Gracie's Brightwater firm has worked on 12 projects with Mr. Rosgen since 1986.

It was a case of degradation that Mr. Rosgen says got him into the stream-restoration field -- that of an "old but favorite fishing stream that I used to go to in Idaho when I was young." He said he returned after college to find it destroyed by logging, development and erosion.

"It had such an impact on me that I knew I was going to dedicate the rest of my life to never letting it happen again," he said.

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