Transnational Research Associates

Submitted: August 1997

An Analysis of the Spring 1997 Phoenix National Riparian Service Workshop


Art Madsen, M.Ed.

with research support from

James Snow, B.Sc.

This narrative report is principally focused on implementing western riparian restoration. It will discuss, in some depth, the National Riparian Service Team’s most recent efforts to restore watershed resources, such as wetlands, streams and lakes. An analysis of a major workshop attended by distinguished experts in the field of resource management will constitute the majority of this report. It is also important to note that targeted concepts discussed in this Interagency Workshop pertained to a wide range of ecological considerations, primarily riparian, throughout the states involved.

Earlier this year, an interagency riparian conservation workshop was held in Phoenix, Arizona. Wayne Elmore, official representative of the National Riparian Service (NRS) served as host.

The NRS Presiding Panel included:

Mike Dombeck, Chief of the U.S. Forestry Service (USFS);

Jack W. Thomas, Professor Forestry at Boone and Crocket College (BCC);

Gary Edwards, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service USFWS;

Matt Millanbach, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); and

Paul Johnson, Chief of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

The primary objectives of the team were to establish interagency workshops, to promote assistance, to enhance communication, which would allow collaboration between working communities, and to act as a catalyst for improved managerial strategies.

Further, team members recognized that, to be effective, riparian restoration and management must be based on common goals and objectives. Management strategies must also incorporate a specific direction for riparian areas, and, most importantly, they must reflect simple “common sense.?lt;/P>

The team identified a need to promote and establish a common vocabulary, thus minimizing biases, and felt that prescribed methods for evaluating streams should be developed. These procedures, and others, should ensure that “management problem resolution?becomes an effective tool, at the ground level, for favorably impacting those vitally affected by either success or failure of programs underway.

This would particularly include communities that are dependent on aquatic resources for economic viability.

Among major features of the workshop discussion were the following data, comments and observations, offered by individual Panel Members:

Mike Dombeck (USFS) mentioned that, on March 26, 1996, he and his associates composed a letter to accelerate cooperative restoration and management of riparian streams in eleven Western States. The letter dealt with the critical status of programs currently in progress. The need to coordinate interstate riparian management as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible, was highlighted in this correspodence. The Forestry Department’s concerns seemed to impress those present.

Placing his citation in a contemporary context, Wayne Elmore (NRS) subsequently quoted a statement by Plato, dating back to 400 BC, which has implications for Western U.S. watershed management:

"Water was abundantly stored; now, instead the water rushes to the ocean. The shrines that survive to the present day on the sites of extinct water supplies are evidence for the correctness of my present hypothesis." (Workshop Supplied Video Tape)

Indeed, if watershed resources are not managed properly, severe shortages and sustained damage will occur, negatively impacting natural resources in contiguous areas.

It was uniformly acknowledged by those present that there is an on-going need to preserve precious watershed and aquatic life-forms. The workshop host subsequently presented a series of illustrative slides portraying federal and private forest-lands in a combination of four western states. In the case of California, the slides centered on particularly newsworthy accomplishments of the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In these projects, promotion of vegetation growth, wildlife habitat and aquatic resource preservation was accentuated.

Further extending applicable points made earlier in the workshop by participants who were concerned primarily about riparian erosion, among other issues, Matt Millanbach offered additional comments to the group pertaining to past and present efforts. He noted that, about ten years ago, when he was first named Director of the Bureau of Land Management, his Bureau and another agency joined forces to tackle the problems of deteriorating watersheds. They formed an “interagency riparian team?and began work that has continued, to the extent that funding permits, until the present day. The goal of this combined effort was to restore 75% of a pre-defined eroded riparian area over a specified period. This goal, he noted, was not realistic, in the sense that, over the ten year period, only 40% of the lands were reclaimed, restored or measurably improved.

The speaker identified a number of factors that prevented the initial goal from being achieved. The interagency team was hampered, he said, by the BLM’s budget, most particularly by the 1996 budget that had declined dramatically. Under these circumstances, the work force decreased by a factor of some 30%. Washington state’s BLM workforce fell, for example, from 500 federal workers to about 350. In spite of these setbacks, Matt Millanbach confirmed that interagency cooperation and participatory leadership at several levels of government, local, state and federal, enabled progress to be made. Beyond intra-governmental cooperation, these agencies contacted land-owners, as well, to ensure that regulatory statutes were being enforced on private property.

During his remarks, Matt explained that, on June 4, 1997, an important piece of legislation, The Organic Administrative Act, will mark its Centennial Anniversary. This pivotal Act established “reserves?throughout the country, and specified two “purposes?or fields of concentration, namely water and timber, which would fall under its jurisdictional authority. In contemporary times, the speaker noted, emphasis has shifted perceptibly toward water and watershed management.

It was confirmed during Matt’s segment of the discussion that the purposes of a watershed are to catch, store and release water over a given period of time. The priority assigned to watersheds throughout lands managed by the Bureau is related to such factors as contiguous population growth, increased demand by business and industry, and the need to preserve habitats on a determined percentage of land, whether managed by the Bureau or not. It is undeniably necessary to plan adequately for present and future contingencies.

The discussion moved forward toward the subject of “summarizing and defining?what has already been learned by specialists in the field of riparian management. Paul Johnson, Chief of the NRCS, emphasized that there is a priority-need to collaborate with landowners, such as ranchers and farmers in all states concerned by this interagency project. He confirmed, as well, that steps to improve water resources on managed land were not sufficient, but that soil improvement and conservation initiatives were becoming increasingly important. Indeed, for a number of years, his service was known as the Soil Conservation Agency. Both water and soil are, of course, interwoven and thee is an increasing awareness of this ecologically sound interdependency, he noted. For more than 60 years, his department has been dedicated to the task of assisting others to understand the role of soil in land management. The speaker also drew certain well-founded conclusions as to the impact which water shortages may have on soil preservation.

Director Johnson’s comments subsequently addressed the relationship of “people and land?quoting Aldo Leopold, who is reported to have said, “When the land does well for the people and the people do well for the land, then there is true conservation.? This symbiotic relationship, Johnson pointed out, is at the heart of his service’s attempts to see the land protected and the people prosper. At the conclusion of his remarks, he mentioned his book, “Learning to Read the Land: Conservation Ideas?which expands on the points he made during the workshop.

Following discussion of the importance of water and soil conservation, developed quite eloquently by Director Johnson, there were general remarks and observations made by Gary Edwards of USFWS. On balance, his outlook was fairly bleak for the short and medium term.

He noted that all agencies seem to be fighting a losing battle, in spite of good intentions and hard work on the part of many agencies. Edwards mentioned that there is a steady decline in aquatic resources, due to an apparent inability to modify regulations so as to properly confront new requirements and needs. Speaking as a high-ranking official of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he noted that it is increasingly critical to look beyond stream-banks and to examine the entire eco-system, with a view toward determining the overall health of watersheds, lakes, rivers, and streams. Repeating a theme that had recurred in other presentations, he underscored how very important it is to communicate effectively with landowners at the grass-roots level throughout all 11 Western States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used this approach for many years.

Turning to a brief survey of accomplishments achieved in recent months, he noted that in his sector of responsibility, some 900 miles of riparian corridors and 90 miles of inland aquatic habitat have been restored to full use thus far this year.

Other panel members concurred that this denoted impressive progress.

Jack W. Thomas spoke next. He had been a Field Biologist prior to accepting his Professorship in Forestry at Boone and Crocket College. Highlighting the importance of rivers, he quoted a well-known book entitled, “A River Runs Through It.?(Norman MacClean, 1976)) Several quotations were included in his remarks to bolster his position that broad-based cooperation is required for effective management of rivers and streams.

All government land managers, he noted, must cooperate and work conscientiously with private-property owners to ensure ultimate success, in terms of ecological and conservation priorities.

Professor Thomas indicated that all land-owners are responsible for proper management of their properties. He emphasized the notion of “stewardship? implying that we are all entrusted with the welfare of the nation’s ecology, and are responsible to “the people?for our actions. Future generations depend on our judgments, he noted. To maintain our streams and watersheds in a healthy condition is a true test of responsible stewardship.

Unlike Gary Edwards who acknowledged that we were fighting a losing battle, Professor Thomas felt that we have achieved an excellent “start? although much remains to be done in the area of riparian restoration. What is acceptable for Professor Thomas seems to be measurable progress, regardless of the enormity of the task remaining.

Wayne Elmore, who served essentially as host for the proceedings, reviewed what other contributors had presented. His remarks centered on the unique nature of the nation’s riparian resources, and confirmed that each habitat or locale features distinctive characteristics. He noted that channels change over time and on a seasonal basis. Sedimentary deposition, storage and transfer patterns also formed a portion of his comments and analytical insights. He mentioned the significance of vegetation growth, as well as stream degradation through pollution and contamination. According to Elmore, disturbances and turbidity patterns are also thought to be a critical subject-area for future analysis by specialists. Density of aquatic life-forms in streams might provide insights, as well, into recovery from disturbances or disruptions, he noted.

The host’s presentation of technical material led to introduction of a professional hydrologist who was in an excellent position to assess the interaction of many variables. During his introduction of the specialist, Elmore noted that hydrologists study all forces that influence riparian conditions. He explained that it was, and still is, critical, to fully understand the origins of all watershed eco-systems, and to be able to predict the directions in which they seem to be heading. The host underscored that hydrologists evaluate the types of adjustments that must be made to ensure that riparian resources are “uniformly in harmony?with each other, and with all aspects surrounding watersheds.

Continuing his introduction of the hydrologist, an impressively experienced professional, Elmore turned his attention to the role which topography determines in the welfare of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, in upland and low-lying areas. He referred to the characteristics of stream banks and flood plains, noting the roles hydrologists perform in their management and control of watersheds.

In effect, hydrology is the study of the inter-relationship among landowners, erosion dynamics, water and vegetation, he explained. Elmore sharpened the focus of the workshop’s theme by stating that hydrological changes occur, thus influencing quite heavily surrounding riparian vegetation and habitat.

In actually presenting the hydrologist to the inter-agency workshop, the host briefly reviewed his professional background and, reminding the group once more of the importance of proper watershed and habitat management, he then yielded the podium to Bill Johnson, professional hydrologist.

The first item discussed by Johnson dealt with the productive potential of soil and water on site. Assessment of channel conditions, for example, is critical, he noted. The depth of water table levels, and the status of aquifers are certainly relevant concepts within the field of riparian management, particularly if they have declined measurably or are deteriorating. He noted that most riparian systems occur on or near alluvial deposits, where valley floors are flat and broad. He also noted that these zones reduce and buffer water energy from potentially disruptive, high flows.

Pursuing this line of reasoning, the guest hydrologist asserted that stable ecological and hydrological conditions do not necessarily mean that riparian ‘balance?is static or rigid. There is the distinct possibility of ‘dynamic change or flux?that is favorable to the wide range of aquatic life-forms found on protected and managed lands. He also pointed out that over-stabilization must be avoided, for this reason. Most conservationists agree that certain natural processes are desirable, particularly river-banks being undercut, filling, refilling, and scowering. Phenomena such as meanders, migrating and adjusting are also perfectly normal. All of these processes are natural occurrences that encourage the formation of viable and ecologically stable riparian systems, he added.

Amplifying his theme, Johnson spoke extensively of other riparian structures, largely channels pools, recesses, rock formations and log-steps, all of which can improve the odds of sustaining indigenous life-forms, thus maintaining the entire ecosystem intact and viable. The destructive forces of improperly managed water can also be minimized, he noted. During high-flow season, the levels of aquifers typically fluctuate, Johnson explained.

Elaborating on this subject, he added that there are a number of factors impacting the dynamics of fluctuation. Obviously, during peak-flow periods, aquifers are recharged. These newly arriving quantities of water augment ‘base-flow?that is already present due to normal ground seepage. Figure I, below, indicates the primary sources of water during high flow season. Johnson expanded on this concept in the course of his remarks.


In an overly simplified sense, it would be fair to state that riparian conditions are heavily influenced by three primary factors, Johnson stated. These fluctuating conditions, many of which are perfectly healthy, are essentially predicated on time-oriented considerations.

(1) gradual channel evolution

(2) normal channel dynamics

(3) rapid channel adjustment

In the long term, channel evolution involves changes of a geological nature related to landscape topology and weather patterns. Clearly, there are unpredictable phenomena, such as organic and inorganic debris, harsh scowering by wind and driving rain, rapid snow-melts and soil degradation. The general hydrology of the watershed, Johnson noted, also affects physical characteristics of channels, culverts or sloughs, lakes and ponds, as well. Johnson addressed, in some detail, the concept of the ‘flood plain? and, he demonstrated the interrelationships of all operative dynamics mentioned above.

The guest hydrologist next focused the group’s attention on a number of thoughts mentioned by Wayne Elmore in his introductory remarks, pointing up the scientific aspects of riparian restoration which, although flexible to some degree, is a predictable science. Upon conclusion of Johnson’s remarks, marking roughly the half-way point in the Workshop, Elmore introduced two other hydrologists working with the National Riparian Service team, Lorena Corzatt and Janice Staats.

Ms. Corzatt discussed the functional relationship of riparian zones and water energy, with particular reference to the destructive potential of water, frequently resulting in floods and other natural disasters impacting social communities, as mentioned earlier. She pursued her remarks explaining in considerable detail the effects of floods and their implications for the various types of environments they affect.

Ms. Corzatt addressed the nature of the relationship between distance and elevation along a streambed, and how these variables affect water force and energy in conjunction with banks and bed contours. Her remarks focused on flood conditions, as opposed to normal flow patterns. Water that travels over great distances, at low energy levels, runs along a low gradient, she pointed out, while short distances often involve greater force and higher gradients. It would also seem logical to consider the volume of water, in addition to the factors just mentioned. Figure II, below, illustrates this principle, and is accompanied by the mathematical formula corresponding to the concept under discussion.


These observations also prompted analysis, by Ms. Corzatt, of the effects a sinuous path may have on force, erosion patterns and meandering.

In addition to these factors, the depth and width of a river-bed in relation to the river’s banks, were considered significant factors in determining whether the river has achieved dynamic equilibrium, or whether there may be fluctuations in stability of flow and consistency of force. The status of a river at any given point in time and/or location can influence the degree of sinuousness, the extent of adjacent flood plains and channel straightening. Construction projects and economic development plans, often involving access roads and highways, can be heavily influenced, she pointed out, by the dynamics of near-by rivers or streams.

Ms. Corzatt, referring to Bill Jackson’s statements earlier in the workshop proceedings, elaborated on the role of vegetation. She noted that vegetation functions essentially to dissipate energy, to store water, and to filter sediment. It is widely recognized that vegetation, strategically placed or encouraged where appropriate, prevents erosion by developing an extensive root mass. Ms. Corzatt discussed briefly the types of root masses that bind soil most efficiently, preventing precious topsoil from eroding or degrading. She concluded her remarks dealing with vegetation by stressing the harmonious balance required to maintain ecological integrity in riparian areas.

The hydrologist’s attention subsequently turned to illustration of the differences in water energy, or hydraulic force patterns, when comparing channels which are either already wide, or further widening, with meandering, perhaps narrower, channels. She also outlined a variety of components constituting dynamic equilibrium or dis-equilibrium. Her comments ranged over both quantitative and qualitative factors, and she mentioned the need to measure all parameters to arrive at valid conclusions or recommendations.

Ms. Corzatt stressed, toward the end of her remarks to workshop attendees, that “understanding the critical distinctions between a flood plain, a channel, and their dynamics, is vital to the success of revitalizing and restoring streams.? These concepts, she noted, in conclusion, are integrally related to applied river morphology. Ms. Janice Staats, following her introduction by Mr. Elmore, addressed those present. Shortly after taking her position at the podium, she re-emphasized the relationships between and among water, land and vegetation. Mentioning that streams receive most precipitation from rain and snowmelt, emanating from upland regions, she explained that “catchments?are often located primarily in upland areas. She elaborated on the notion of catchment drainage density and pointed out that “total stream length?is related to “area height.? Ms. Staats then situated her remarks within the context of energy potential, referring to previous concepts dealing with force and destructive potential.

Turning her attention to less theoretical matters, Ms. Staats outlined the effects road construction could have on run-off. She mentioned that roads capture run-off and commented that subsurface run-off can sometimes drain from a road cutbank and become surface flow. See Figure III below.


Following up on these observations, she demonstrated the characteristics of a hydrological curve, using it to illustrate how a stream may develop over a given period of time. One basic principle she elaborated upon dealt with how alluvial channels undergo periods of instability and alteration. It is essential, she noted, to evaluate alluvial deposits when assessing riparian areas.

Some developmental characteristics that she mentioned as forming core-concepts relating to (1) alluvial deposits, (2) the formation of channels and (3) flood-plains were:

Stage 1: There is no down-cut; they maintain vegetation and have a sinuous path

Stage 2: This results in a broad gully. Natural adjustment is important in this situation.

The channel will, in time, become wide enough to constitute a flood plain. This final stage or condition is known as a laterally unstable stream, because its erosion pattern is horizontal or positioned sideways.

Ms. Staats indicated, in closing, that prior to attempting to restabilize a stream, cause and effect must be carefully considered. All likely implications must be explored and analyzed. Steps to be taken must be logically and scientifically reviewed by several specialists and ill-considered actions must be avoided, she noted. In finalizing her remarks, she referred to two authoritative sources, suggesting that those present refer to them for further clarification:

(a) Riparian Area Management, Tech References 1735-5; and,

(b) David Montgomery’s text entitled “Channel Classification?which focuses on predicting channel response and on assessment techniques.

Mr. Elmore thanked the previous speaker for her enlightening presentation and introduced the workshop’s final speaker to those present.

At this point in the proceedings, Ms. Cindy Correll, Soil Scientist for the NRST, presented a basic overview of the processes involved in soil formation, emphasizing key factors in the hydrological cycle. After concisely introducing her subject by referring to the nature of Riparian Zones as “having wetter soils which constitute a transition zone between land and water? Ms. Correll suggested that the field of soils research and analysis was actually quite complex.

Her subsequent remarks ranged widely, within the field of soils analysis, and encompassed many fundamental as well as more complex aspects of relevant developmental or formative processes. She mentioned the role of nutrients in soils formation, and alluded to geological forces and characteristics that influence or determine land surfaces and sub-surfaces, such as topography, time, weather and soil texture. Speaking about how soil changes over time, she stressed ways in which it evolves, matures and degrades.

Launching into a technical discussion of the origin of soils, Ms. Correll stated that soil originates as “unconsolidated parent material? It moves from these initial formative stages, largely consisting of solid, or block-like, formations, toward finer particulate, mineral=laden soil. These soil particles consist of “pore spaces? she noted, comprised of water, oxygen and nitrogen gases. The actual structure of soil, however, embodies a modification of structure affecting texture. Certain elements or components, namely sand silt and clay, are crucial to developmental processes which determine how “early?soil formation progresses to maturity, Ms. Correll explained.

Delving into greater detail, she demonstrated how soil can also contain larger particles called “peds,?characterized by greater pore-space between clusters. Pore space is influenced by “surface area differences? a concept on which she did not elaborate fully, although she mentioned that these differences involved the sand-silt-clay admixture and variations in adhesion of water molecules.

Turning to the actual function of soil within riparian areas, the speaker noted that soil retains wter for longer periods of time through an “aquifer storage?phenomenon. Nutrients, of course, are also affected by this storage mechanism and plants, as well as microorganisms, are generally favorably affected by these processes. Storage and filtration of these life-sustaining nutrients occur in these types of environments.

Retention of water on riparian lands involves a number of identifiable, physical stages, outlined by Ms. Correll in her talk. Among these stages were:

(1) Capture of Run-Off - facilitated by plants and vegetation, thus reducing flow velocity during high flow periods;

(2) Ground Water Recharge - occurring during precipitation and throughout the normal hydrological cycle; and

(3) Infiltration - of a semi-permanent nature occurs when vegetation retains water for longer periods of time, breaking the force and continuity of water-flow.

Illustrating these concepts, Ms. Correll offered an example of vegetation interacting with soil to prevent erosion. She spoke of Camp Creek, which at the end of a 20-year study period was thoroughly covered with perennial plants, known for its considerable water-storage capacity. It is currently one half mile wide and five miles long, and features a capacity of 200 million gallons of water, she estimated.

Focusing her subsequent remarks briefly on the nitrogen cycle, Ms. Correll explained the role that organic chemistry plays in soil formation, maintenance and restoration, mentioning that certain basic processes, now well understood, are indispensable to proper equilibrium in riparian areas.

The sub-topic of pollution ranked last in her remarks, but, she emphasized, it was by no means the least important aspect of soil conservation and restoration efforts. The pollution that occurs within this context involves nutrients adhering to sediment that contains pollutants. These polluted nutrient-bearing particles occur as solutes in water. Removal of “nutrient pollution?can be achieved through filtration of sediment, as well as by on-going infiltration into the soil from surface runoff and seasonal or periodic high-flows. Solutes, she acknowledged, are generally removed by microbial action or through normal plant-related processes. She stressed that pollutants must be removed, and that these mechanisms played a vital role in doing so.

Several fairly obvious remarks concluded her observations. She mentioned, specifically, that:

(1) Bank stability is provided by vegetation;

(2) Vegetation provides the ability for soils to resist compaction; and

(3) Finely textured soils tend to be vertically unstable, while coarse soils tend to be horizontally unstable.

Those present graciously acknowledged the insight that Ms. Correll brought to this forum, which was then adjourned by Mr. Elmore, the NRS workshop host, who pledged to reconvene similar proceedings within a reasonable timeframe in order to follow-up on data, concepts and priorities presented during this workshop.