Over the past 10 years the Rosgen classification system and its associated methods of "natural channel design" have become synonymous (to many without prior knowledge of the field) with the term "stream restoration" and the science of fluvial geomorphology. Since the mid 1990s, this classification approach has become widely, and perhaps dominantly adopted by governmental agencies, particularly those funding restoration projects. For example, in a request for proposals for the restoration of Trout Creek in Montana, the Natural Resources Conservation Service required "experience in the use and application of a stream classification system and its implementation." Similarly, classification systems have been used in evaluation guides for riparian areas and U.S. Forest Service management plans. Most notably, many highly trained geomorphologists and hydraulic engineers are often held suspect, or even thought incorrect, if their approach does not include reference to or application of a classification system. This, combined with the para-professional training provided by some involved in "natural channel design" empower individuals and groups with limited backgrounds in stream and watershed sciences to engineer wholesale re-patterning of stream reaches using 50-year old technology that was never intended for engineering design. At Level I, the Rosgen classification system consists of eight or nine major stream types, based on hydraulic-geometry relations and four other measures of channel shape to distinguish the dimensions of alluvial stream channels as a function of the bankfull stage. Six classes of the particle size of the boundary sediments are used to further sub-divide each of the major stream types, resulting in 48 or 54 stream types. Aside from the difficulty in identifying bankfull stage, particularly in incising channels, and the issue of sampling from two distinct populations (beds and banks) to classify the boundary sediments, the classification provides a consistent and reproducible means for practitioners to describe channel morphology although difficulties have been encountered in lower-gradient stream systems. Use of the scheme to communicate between users or as a conceptual model, however, has not justified its use for engineering design or for predicting river behavior; its use for designing mitigation projects, therefore, seems beyond its technical scope. Copyright ASCE 2005.
Additional Publication Details
How well do the rosgen classification and associated "natural channel design" methods integrate and quantify fluvial processes and channel response?
Larger Work Title:
World Water Congress 2005: Impacts of Global Climate Change - Proceedings of the 2005 World Water and Environmental Resources Congress
2005 World Water and Environmental Resources Congress