Stream Restoration

Page updated on Jun 30, 2020 at 11:29 AM

What is Stream Restoration?

“Stream restoration” is a very broad term that can be as little as removing blockages within systems (a destructive log jam or human generated trash) to redesigning and restructuring a stream within its floodplain.  Stream degradation from increased imperviousness in the watershed is often a byproduct of urbanization that negatively impacts water quality.  The channel size and flow of a stream is directly related to the watershed that drains into the stream.  The size of the watershed, the landuse, and soils are some of the determining factors.  Increased volume and velocities of stormwater runoff due to increased imperviousness may lead to channel erosion, channel incision, and streambank undercutting.  Obstructions such as downed trees and dumped materials (trash, concrete, etc) may also impede stream flow.  Stream Restoration is one way that developed areas can increase their water quality and improve natural habitat for wildlife and residents. 

The Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) developed a Stream Corridor Restoration fact sheet in June 2020. The 9-page PDF document provides details on stream corridor restorations and provides answers to frequently asked questions such as why do local governments do stream corridor restoration and why don’t we let the stream heal itself naturally. NVRC also developed a Northern Virginia Stream Corridor Restoration Virtual Tour (external link) story map. The map will be updated with our stream corridor restoration projects in Alexandria.

Stream Restoration Goals

The basic goal of almost all stream restorations is to improve the health of the system.  The benefits are many, and which benefits result is largely dependent upon the methods or activities that lead to restoration.  Among the benefits are increased dissolved oxygen within the water (better for fish and other critters), increased habitat for aquatic organisms, decreased erosion and thus reduced sediment transport, increased water quality, decreased maintenance activities and more efficient flow through the system.  The City of Alexandria is fortunate in that stream restoration is one of the tools available through the Chesapeake Bay Program to meet state and federal mandates to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

City streams suffer increased flows with elevated velocities when urbanization occurs.  These increased velocities result in erosion of the banks and beds of the stream and negatively impact water quality and stream aesthetics.

Lucky Run Stream Restoration

Lucky Run is a tributary to Four Mile Run and part of the larger Potomac River watershed. The Lucky Run watershed consists of approximately 225 acres of densely developed urban land and as a result, the stream currently exhibits instability along with several unfavorable characteristics. The project section of the Lucky Run begins where the stream emerges from the culvert under West Braddock Road near I-395 and continues downstream to the wet pond near Ford Avenue and Park Center Drive. Natural channel design techniques will be applied to approximately 950 linear feet of stream to restore Lucky Run to a stable condition and improve stream function, water quality, and habitat. Additional information can be found on the Stormwater Infrastructure webpage.   

Stream Assessment Study and Potential Projects

The City previously completed Phases I and II of the Stream Assessment Program. Phase I of the program was completed in 2004 and involved the identification and mapping of perennial and intermittent streams, defining the intermittent/ephemeral stream interface and approximate limits of ephemeral streams. Phase II of the program was completed in 2008 and involved the assessment of fifty-seven stream reaches within the City’s eight local watersheds. Information related to stream conditions was collected relating to habitat, infrastructure impacts, problem areas, stream characteristics, and geomorphic classification.  The information from these studies will continue to be used to prioritize streams for restoration.  

Phase III of the stream assessment studies is currently in the final stages and developed a prioritized list of stream restoration projects.  The scope of work included assessing, evaluating, and ranking five potential project sites using a decision matrix with a comprehensive list of criteria to prioritize the projects.  The two top ranking projects were segments along Strawberry Run and Taylor Run.  Conceptual designs were developed for these two highest-ranking potential project sites. The Strawberry Run and Taylor Run Stream Restoration projects are currently in progress and additional information can be found on the Stormwater Infrastructure webpage


  • Community Meeting - December 5, 2018
    Phase III Stream Assessment Study: Potential Stream Restoration Projects
    7:00 pm at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School Library

Stream Restoration Strawberry and Taylor Runs

Strawberry Run Restoration - Completed 2010

The Strawberry Run project completed in 2010 is located just north of Duke Street for approximately 600 linear feet upstream towards Fort Williams Parkway.  Strawberry Run suffered from high velocities as evidenced by the down-cutting creating the vertical side banks and depressed stream bed.  There was also a considerable amount of concrete and other debris in the stream creating erosive forces that was removed.  The potential new Strawberry Run restoration project discussed above would be situated just north of the previous Strawberry Run Stream Restoration that was completed in 2010.  

Restoration Goals

The philosophy of this particular stream restoration was to reconnect the stream with the floodplain and attempt to maintain the sinuosity (the amount of curve in the stream) so as create as great of variety of habitat within the stream and riparian area as possible.  This involved adding cross vanes to roll the water away from the banks centering the flow, control the change in hydraulic grade line, and prevent down-cutting of the channel.   J-hooks were added to direct erosive flows away from the streambank, center the flow, and provide scour pools for fish habitat.  Other components of natural channel employed were using jute matting to stabilize toe and bank slopes – anchored with a variety of pins and willow stakes at the toe.  Willow stakes serve to anchor the matting but moreover to provide a network of natural root systems to anchor the banks in place against erosive flows.

Before Picture                                                  After Picture

Strawberry Run Before  Strawberry Run After 

Download the Strawberry Run Restoration presentation. 

Holmes Run / Chambliss Crossing Project

The Chambliss Crossing project along Holmes Run near the Dora Kelly Nature Park incorporated stream restoration and a multi-use stream crossing across Holmes Run.  The engineering and design analysis explored alternatives for a crossing and stream bank restoration for the banks between North Chambliss Street and the city limits.

The Design was exceedingly sensitive to community desires and the process engaged the local community.

Project Goals:

  • No rise in water surface elevation
  • Maintained as much of the meadow as possible
  • Updated the findings of an existing 2002 site/feasibility study for the Holmes Run Multi-Use Crossing with particular consideration paid to recent flood events
  • Included hydrology and hydraulic analysis at a preliminary crossing location to identify and propose stream bank stabilization and restoration options which should also be incorporated into design and construction plans
  • Included all environmental assessments and environmental impact statements
  • Completed design for a crossing and shared-use path connections to existing trails
  • Incorporated streambank stabilization/restoration for the banks between North Chambliss and the city line