Graf, William L. 2001. Presidential Citation– Damage Control: Restoring the Physical Integrity of America’s Rivers. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 91 (1/March): 1-27.


America’s rivers are not simply water. They are complex geographical spaces that have also provided transportation, mechanical and electrical power, water resources, water disposal, wildlife habitat, recreation space, and contributions to the quality of the nation’s aesthetic life (p. 24). The technological development such as dams (more than 80,000 dams) has segmented the streams and fragmented their watersheds, resulting in distortion in the biological, chemical and physical integrity of the nation’s river. But the irony is people are more concerned about the biological and chemical impacts in the river while ignoring physical integrity which is the most important. In order to address the following paper to researchers, policymakers, teachers, managers, and citizens who deal with resources issues, William Graf explores an agenda of 9 basic concepts (p. 4):

  • fragmentation
  • physical integrity
  • functional surfaces
  • physical indicator parameters
  • role of system change
  • naturalness
  • probabilistic perspectives
  • watershed frameworks
  • geographical representativeness

While the researcher and administrations paid scant attention to physical integrity, Graf urged the physical structure of rivers provides the substrate for their biological systems and a context for their chemical systems. Physical Integrity for rivers refers to a set of active fluvial processes and landforms wherein the channel, flood plains, sediments, and overall spatial configuration maintain a dynamic equilibrium, with adjustments not to exceeding limits of change defined by societal value (p.6). Considering The Mississippi Rivers as an example, he clarifies how social values influence the physical integrity of the river. The middle Mississippi River was a sinuous channel that frequently moved across an active flood of more than 80km wide. In 1543, the lower river was reported to be flowing in flood 100km wide. After that, massive engineering efforts were made to produce a system of flood control dams in the upper basin, along with modified channel alignment and an extensive levee system in the middle and lower basins. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, levees encroached on the river, reduced the active flood-plain area, and converted the channel to simplified conduit and during the massive 1993 floods in the lower Missouri and upper Mississippi rivers, high food waters breached many levees, returning to same flood plains and renewing a national debate about levee construction.

Lastly, he recommends the following:

  • to reduce the fragmentation of rivers
  • to improve the physical integrity of the river
  • to include functional physical systems as part of a conceptual framework for research
  • to use the indicator parameters of the channel width
  • to create the policies to emphasize human accommodation to change rather than trying to exert complete control of rivers
  • to address the naturalness by specifying the goals
  • to forecast the locational characteristics of rivers using probabilistic methods
  • to organize policy makings for rivers according to regions that are watersheds and
  • to insure geographic representativeness in funding research and building polices for river preservation and restoration.

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