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Don’t throw cold water on stream restorations

A major environmental project, the six-year restoration of Cattail Creek by the Berrywood community with help from the Magothy River Association was completed in 2019 on Earth Day. Seen here, neighborhood volunteers were planting a bio retention area above the stream bed with native trees, shrubs and deep rooted plants to retain storm water runoff.
A major environmental project, the six-year restoration of Cattail Creek by the Berrywood community with help from the Magothy River Association was completed in 2019 on Earth Day. Seen here, neighborhood volunteers were planting a bio retention area above the stream bed with native trees, shrubs and deep rooted plants to retain storm water runoff. (Sharon Lee Tegler)

Stream restoration projects benefit communities in more ways than improving water quality (“As Maryland pours millions of dollars into ailing streams, research shows some projects don’t help clean the bay,” Jan. 2). In cities such as Baltimore, they also create or beautify greenspace, provide urban wildlife habitat, and serve as a tangible example for environment education. Studies have proven that access to nature affects our mental and physical health.

Starting stream projects at the headwaters can be more effective in improving water quality, and we have learned that restoring the entire stream is the best model. However, focusing on only these headwater areas raises a question of equity in conservation. People who live downstream, such as in cities as the rivers flow to the Chesapeake Bay, should also benefit from public conservation and restoration dollars.

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There is another way to approach stream restoration projects. Chesapeake Conservancy is an advocate for “pay-for-success” delivery contracts which define with detailed metrics the expected outcomes of a private company or nonprofit’s work. Payment for services is dependent upon project performance as measured in the field, such as whether or not the project resulted in meeting or surpassing agreed upon metrics for pounds of nutrient and sediment load reductions. The company funds the restoration from its own sources of capital and is only reimbursed if the project is successfully implemented and goals are met. So, governments are purchasing outcomes and not just funding projects.

Precision conservation is using the latest high resolution land cover data and technology to identify the most appropriate locations for restoration work. By combining green infrastructure, pay-for-success and precision conservation, the Chesapeake conservation and restoration movement is able to reach greater scale.

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Joel Dunn, Annapolis

The writer is president and CEO of Chesapeake Conservancy.

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