More cities looking to 'daylight' buried rivers and streams

buried streams
Posted at 10:18 AM, Feb 02, 2022

BOSTON, Mass. — In cities across the country, there are untold numbers of rivers and streams buried beneath the ground, sentenced to a life of darkness.

But now there's a growing movement to bring those bodies of water back to light.

Julie Wood is the deputy director of the Charles River Watershed Association. She's studied waterways for years and says that during the early 1900s, as cities and skylines from coast-to-coast came into formation, many planners realized they were running out of space, which is how an untold number of rivers, creeks and streams were buried underground.

"You basically just see the death of that stream. It’s the worst thing you can do for a stream, it cuts it off from open oxygen exchange and sunlight," Wood said.

Across the country though, there is a growing movement to free rivers from captivity.

It’s known as “daylighting," which is essentially a body over water that was once constricted to pipes underground is opened up and brought to the surface. Bringing it to daylight once again.

"It brings these rivers back to life," Wood added.

Climate change is also accelerating a number of these projects.

Jenny Hoffner, with the nonprofit American Rivers, has seen more communities embrace the idea of "daylighting," buried creeks and streams.

"What we’re seeing is a lot more cities starting to look at this as a solution," Hoffner said.

When a river is constricted to a pipe it limits how much water that river can hold. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of rainstorms though, city planners are pushing for daylighting projects. The result is that when that big storm hits, rivers will have a natural flood plain to expand to.

"There's more capacity for more intense storms," Hoffner noted.