Living Daylights

March 19, 2019

A great many rivers and streams in the US have been, over the last 150 years, confined within channels or buried altogether to keep them tame and allow development to proceed around them. In the last 20 years or so, the trend has somewhat reversed; we’ve realized that these concrete channels don’t allow for infiltration and actually speed the movement of water and pollutants. In places, the container that we’ve put the stream into—after increased development and greater volume of runoff—has become too small to hold it. So daylighting streams—removing them from the confines in which we’ve placed them and restoring, as far as is possible, their natural path—has become a fairly common practice.

It’s not happening only in the US; in fact, rivers with a much longer history of development surrounding them have been buried and are now being daylighted. One of these is the River Ilisos in Athens, Greece. According to this article, the river “was mentioned by Plato, and saw philosophers from Socrates to the Cynics teach on its banks.” Then, sometime in the last century, it vanished.

During a period of rapid growth in Athens just after World War II, the river was routed into an underground tunnel; tram lines now run on top of it for part of its length. But the tunnel hasn’t been maintained and is starting to cave in, damaging the lines. The trams stopped running about six months ago, and officials are afraid that if the tunnel collapses completely, the river will cause flooding throughout the central part of the city.

A proposed plan would reroute the tram lines, daylight the river—which proponents say would be far less expensive than repairing the tunnel—and create green space and pedestrian walkways for more than a kilometer along both banks. The plan is still being debated, although transportation and water officials are both in favor of it.

Have you seen daylighting projects in your area? Have there been arguments against such proposals?

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines. 

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