Restore natural water cycles

Join the movement to restore urban waterways

The daylighting of urban rivers can create new habitat for plants and animals, reduce flood risks, and create new ‘green corridors’ through urban areas. You can help by joining the movement.

As cities developed over time, many natural waterways (such as rivers, creeks and drainage ways) were ‘culverted’ - covered over with concrete or pavement to create space for development and to serve automobile traffic. Restorations of urban rivers can also include converting concrete drainage systems back into natural watercourses, enabling water to filter and flow once again through wetlands.

Today, a global movement is growing to “daylight” (re-expose) these hidden rivers and streams, with the restoration of Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon river being an inspiration to cities around the world. The benefits of regenerating urban rivers are manyfold! The health of these waterways are revived and they become new habitats for plants and animals. They can also reduce the risk of flood and create new ‘green corridors’ through urban areas that come with economic and recreational benefits.

Here are some suggested ways that you can learn more about, contribute to, or be involved in, the movement!

Discover ‘lost’ rivers in your city

Take a journey through history to find ‘lost’ rivers in your city, or concrete drains that could be restored back into natural waterways! Adam Broadhead, a scholar on the subject, suggests some great places to start in the Fresh Water blog.

  • Look at old maps of your local area - street and place names are a good way to start your search – Springvale Road, Riverdale Street etc - the clues are in the name!
  • If you have access to data and open source GIS software, topography data can tell you the routes of old valleys.
  • Visit your library and local archives - look for historic text books referencing old streams and springs, old photographs and paintings.
  • Engage your community! Talk to local people who remember the watercourse first-hand or know of springs flowing through their gardens.

Include it in your curriculum

Teachers and educators involved in the Daylighting Rivers project have developed a free curriculum for secondary school students to engage with inquiry-based and interdisciplinary learning focused on land and river use and transformations, with an emphasis on the ways in which urban growth impacts local river ecosystems. Most distinctively, the goal is for students to understand the importance of "bringing to light" the hidden rivers that are buried under their city – in a sense that is figurative as well as tangible

Become a regenerative leader!

Start a conversation, volunteer, or advocate for, ‘daylighting’ and restoring river projects in your city

If this is an area that lights you up - why not start a conversation with your local community and/or council about potential opportunities to ‘daylight’ rivers or streams in your area? There may be lost rivers that you have found through inquiry, or that have already been identified.

Your search and conversations can also include concrete drains that could be restored back into natural waterways, replacing concrete walls with natural infrastructure.

Here are some suggested starting points, ideas and resources:

  • Green Communities Guide - learn about project considerations for daylighting streams and rivers, and the benefits to nature, local businesses and the community.
  • Contact your local council, water management departments and water companies, to see if there are any current or potential plans underway to invest in significant maintenance or rebuilds to local underground waterways. From there, you could investigate whether these planned works present an opportunity to daylight these waterways. Put a case forward for the project to include this restoration.
  • Volunteer your time and offer your skills and expertise to a daylighting plan or project underway in your local area. These projects require a high level of engagement with the residents and businesses in the community where the restoration is to take place, and as such you could form a community advocacy group to help garner local support for the project.
  • Identify benefits for private sector developers to open up buried watercourses themselves, or for water companies to do it to help reduce their own operating costs.

Local councils may consider engaging schools with the Daylighting Rivers curriculum (above) and invite students to help in the search for lost rivers.

Remember to include in your search any concrete drains in your area that could be restored back into natural watercourses. These projects tend to be less complicated and costly than ‘daylighting’ projects, and with huge win-win benefits to people and nature!

Joining the movement to “daylight” and restore urban waterways is part of a larger collective response. Learn more and find other actions about restoring natural water cycles.

Know of any other resources? Share your ideas.