EWN On The Road Blog

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Welcome to the summer feature podcast miniseries—EWN On The Road. As we teased in Episode 5, in this special series, Todd Bridges, Senior Research Scientist for Environmental Science with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the National Lead of the Engineering With Nature® Program, is sharing some highlights of his travels across the country over the past 2 years visiting people, places, and projects relevant to EWN. The miniseries includes 4 episodes and will post August 3, 10, 17 and 24:

We hope you’ll find these special podcast episodes enlightening and easy listening for your summer travels. You can read more about Todd’s travels and see additional pictures in the EWN On The Road blog.


Dr. Todd Bridges

Todd Bridges, PhD
Senior Research Scientist (ST), Environmental Science
National Lead, Engineering With Nature®
US Army Corps of Engineers
Engineer Research and Development Center

Episode Summaries

Episode 1The San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge: A Natural Landscape Revived

Length:  ~8 minutes        Air Date: August 3, 2022

San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, Credit: Todd Bridges.

In the first episode, Todd Bridges talks about his visit to the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge where he observed the effects of restoration efforts and ongoing management of the area by the US Fish and Wildlife Service; the California Department of Water; the US Army Corps of Engineers; and River Partners, a nonprofit engaged in river and riparian restoration in the region. Over the last 15 years, 600,000 native trees have been planted as a part of the restorations. As Todd describes it, “The landscape that is emerging from these efforts is getting close to what I imagine Pedro Fages and his companions saw as they became the first Europeans to venture into the San Joaquin Valley in 1772.” Aligning natural and engineering processes produces a host of environmental, social, and economic benefits for flood risk management. “My visit to the Refuge has inspired me to think about how Engineering With Nature could support scaling-up restoration and nature-based solutions across the San Joaquin Valley and the nation to achieve a balance between humans and nature on our shared landscapes.”

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Episode 2—The San Joaquin Valley: Past, Present, and Future, from the Air

Length:  ~8 minutes        Air Date: August 10, 2022

San Joaquin River near Kerman, California, about 30 miles downstream from Friant Dam. Credit: Todd Bridges Source: Engineering Water in California and the Case of The San Joaquin River; The California Swing Blog. https://ewn.erdc.dren.mil/?p=6643.

In Episode 2, Todd Bridges shares his perspective on the transformation of the wider San Joaquin Valley where he grew up. In December 2021, he took a helicopter tour of the Valley with an eye toward the landscape transformations that are evident. In 1772, Pedro Fages and his company—the first Europeans to visit the San Joaquin Valley—described the valley as filled with a diversity of wildlife and immense lakes and wetlands. The arrival of the Spanish, other Europeans, and eventually the Americans transformed California’s landscape. Dams, reservoirs, levees, canals, pumps, tunnels, and pipelines associated with the major rivers were the tools used to transform the San Joaquin Valley, draining the wetlands and lakes, resulting in a system that is unsustainable. As Todd describes it, “It’s clear to me that today’s and tomorrow’s climate cannot be reconciled with current practices in the valley and its landscape. It’s also clear to me that nature provides a source of hope for the valley’s future. A new balance could be achieved by resurrecting natural features and processes that were ‘engineered out’ of the Valley in the 20th century. Applying the principles and practices of Engineering With Nature could provide the means to realign the social-ecological system for enduring sustainability, water, and social resilience, and to produce the diversity of benefits and values that nature can provide.”

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Episode 3—The Heartland Tour: Five Rivers in One Day

Length:  ~15 minutes      Air Date: August 17, 2022

Left: The restored confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers and the created park. Right: Todd at the Source of the Missouri River. Credit: Todd Bridges.

In Episode 3, Todd Bridges talks with host Sarah Thorne about part of the trip that he and his wife Anita—the unofficial EWN driver—took in the summer of 2021, traveling across 14 states from Mississippi to Montana and back in what Todd calls the Heartland Tour. On one day of the tour, August 7, they visited five rivers in one day—Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers near Missoula, Montana, and the Jefferson, Madison, and Missouri Rivers near Bozeman, Montana—experiencing a wide range of history between people and rivers, as Todd says, “damming, contaminating, undamming, restoring, exploring, experiencing.” He adds: “That day made a strong impression upon me, to see so many different contexts and to link together a whole range of human activity. We’ve seen that whole progression over the last 150 years, and it was revealed in that day when we visited five rivers. . . . I was thinking a lot about what the rivers had been before people began to, if you will, ‘mess with them,’ engineer them for a variety of purposes. I was also thinking about what the future of our relationship will be with rivers and how we can apply the principles and practices of Engineering With Nature to recover some of the services and some of the values that rivers can provide to us, while at the same time reduce some of the challenges that climate change and other pressures are bringing to our rivers.”

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Episode 4—Rivers as Resources to be Valued

Length:  ~13 minutes      Air Date: August 24, 2022

Lake Mead at Hoover Dam. Credit: Todd Bridges.

In Episode 4, host Sarah Thorne and Todd Bridges continue their discussion on rivers—their role and value. In the winter of 2022, Todd and his wife (and trusty driver), Anita, traveled nearly 8,000 miles through eight states on the “Southwest Swing” of the EWN On The Road tour. They visited the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead on the Nevada and Arizona border, which is at its lowest level in its history, an alarming indication of the megadrought that has gripped the Southwest. As part of the trip, Todd spent some time exploring the Los Angeles River in California, what he calls, “an important case example of river engineering in the twentieth century.” The Los Angeles River travels 51 miles through the greater Los Angeles area, with nearly a million people living within 1 mile of it. Because of challenges related to flooding and the natural movement of the course of the river, it was “locked down,” engineered into an unchanging, unnatural, concrete channel. This unusual situation caused Todd to ponder whether rivers are “problems to be solved” or “resources to be valued.” To help answer this question, Todd spent time talking to people living and working nearby about what they want the river to be. “I met more than 20 people from a whole variety of organizations that have been working for many years to reintroduce the ‘natural’ into the Los Angeles River. And I think what people are looking for is to reconnect to the river. One group was focused on restoration at the Sepulveda Basin, a large 2000+ plus acre area next to the river with huge potential to become basically the Central Park of Los Angeles, or like the Golden Gate Park of San Francisco. . . . There’s just a tremendous amount of interest and growing momentum to create value by reintroducing the ‘natural’ into the Los Angeles River.” There is a significant opportunity for EWN to be part of this transformation: “I’m quite hopeful that we’re going to be able to collaborate in this space so the Los Angeles River can become a model for how we can reengineer to harmonize the natural with human communities.


Engineering With Nature; EWN; N-EWN; natural and nature-based features; NNBF; nature-based solutions; NBS; natural infrastructure; ecosystem restoration; ecological engineering; ecosystem services; climate change; collaboration; sustainability; extreme weather events; community resilience; urban landscapes; flood risk management