Rushing Rivers Institute

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Rushing Rivers Institute
Rushing Rivers Institute
Type Environmental Non-Profit
Founded 2007
Location Amherst, Massachusetts, United States
Director Dr. Piotr Parasiewicz

Rushing Rivers Institute is a non-profit organization in the United States directed by Piotr Parasiewicz to implement river science in the preservation of water resources for the environment and human use. The Institute provides on-demand services, integrating physical and ecological sciences, professional training, and project review services to protect and restore rivers.[1]


Rushing Rivers Institute provides a variety of services applicable to:

  • Instream Flow Studies
  • Fish and invertebrate habitat assessment
  • Watershed and local scale river restoration planning
  • Ecological feasibility studies of dam removal
  • Nature-like fishway design
  • the Impact of Global Warming on rivers and streams

Technical Assistance is provided by R.R.I's employees in the assessment of instream habitat for fish and invertebrates, simulation modeling and the design of nature-like fishways.

Project Review is offered as independent, technical review of the quality of environmental impact assessment projects, specifically with regard to the impact on the aquatic fauna due to water withdrawals, hydro-power, landfills and development.

Models are developed for the description of riverine habitat to determine the ecological status, quantify the effect of various restoration measures, flow management as well as predict the impact of development and climate change on the aquatic fauna. The following models are used in these procedures:

  • Mesohabitat Simulation Modeling using SIM-Stream: This model has been developed by a scientist currently working for Rushing Rivers and it is an enhancement of micro-habitat models such as PHABSIM or River2D. MesoHABSIM allows for quick assessment of a habitat’s conditions for whole communities of fish and invertebrates in the long stretches of the rivers. The model includes sophisticated habitat time series analysis investigating not only the magnitude of protected flows, but also the frequency and duration of events when the habitat is limited. The SIM-Stream software facilitates the model computation, allows comparing restoration scenarios and provides management tools such as ACTograms and Habitat meters allowing continuous monitoring of habitat status
  • River 2D and PHABSIM: For site specific studies River2D and PHABSIM models are computed for fish and macro-invertebrates applying enhanced (multivariate) habitat use criteria. Comparative and combination studies are also conducted using all of the above models.
  • Precipitation Runoff Modeling System: P.R.M.S. to simulate the surface water hydrology of rivers and streams as an input into habitat models.

Biological Assessment

  • Fish surveys: Numerous fish surveys have been conducted using electrofishing and underwater observations including the assessment of fish populations, fish abundances, biomass and age structures on small and large rivers.
  • Macro-invertebrates and mussel, odonate and amphibian surveys: The qualitative and quantitative surveys of invertebrates are conducted and facilitated by identifying aquatic insects and freshwater mussels.
  • Habitat needs of fish and invertebrates: These surveys are designed to determine what habitats are frequented more often by fish communities and invertebrate fauna. Large amounts of quadrants with specific habitat characteristics for fish and invertebrates are sampled. This data serves as training data for physical habitat models

Physical Assessment

  • Reconnaissance surveys: Surveys aimed to define key physical characteristics of rivers and streams and to delineate sections of particular character and obvious human impacts. These are either on-the-ground or aerial imaging surveys conducted in collaboration with Research Aviation.
  • Meso-Habitat features:
    • Hydromorphological Unit (HMU) attributes: Annotate high resolution PC aerial imagery using a gps-linked handheld PC with distinct river habitat units while collecting information on 34 attributes (i.e. woody debris or undercut banks) which are later built into a habitat model using Sim-Stream software.
    • Hydraulic Information: Within each HMU, at least 7 depth and velocity measurements are collected as well as grain-size and embeddedness information. This data is also needed to develop the Sim-Stream model. Depth and velocity measurements are taken using a Hydo-bios keel, Marsh McBirney, or ADCP and are recorded using handheld PCs.
  • Micro-Habitat: This detailed survey of physical characteristics follows the protocols of IFIM describing in detail the river bed topography, as well as depth, flow velocity and fish cover attributes in each survey point. The data serves as an input for hydraulic models associated with PHABSIOM and River2D habitat models.
  • Bathymetry: Three methods to collect bathymetry data are used which can be combined to meet project goals and field site conditions. In shallow, water traditional surveying techniques are used and a Total Station to acquire the necessary spatial data. In deeper water two techniques are utilized depending on the required vertical accuracy of the final product. A typically lower-cost and quicker option would utilize a canoe mounted Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler and survey grade GPS. A higher cost with a greater vertical resolution option (2 cm) would utilize a Radio transmitted Kinematic (RTK) GPS system combined with an EcoSonar sonde.
  • Total Station: Traditional surveying techniques are applied to a river environment. Using local benchmarks or establishing new ones, precise positional data is collected in the floodplain, river banks or bed.
  • Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP): The ADCP provides data on depth and current velocity. It was designed for use in determining stream discharge along a cross section, but it is used more frequently for rapid determination of depth and column velocity for use with MesoHABSIM. The ADCP is a Sontek Riversurveyor mini and has an effective depth range of about 0.4 to 5m.
  • Temperature: Numerous watershed temperature surveys have been performed using various types of Onset data loggers or infrared aerial imagery. Studies involve assessment of installation locations, development of longitudinal profiles, studies of thermal anomalies, assessment of thermal forcing and refuge.
  • Pressure: It has become standard procedure in projects to install pressure loggers throughout study areas. This gives information about temperature and pressure which can be converted to river stage at the instrument. This information is then used to track rainfall events or dam releases along the longitudinal profile.

Software/Technology development: Rushing Rivers develops a software facilitating various aspects of river habitat modeling. SIM-Stream software is a front-end of an Access Database performing data management and calculations of habitat models. River Lab is a suite of input forms that use photo annotation technology for habitat surveys with ARC-Pad, River-pixelator is a software for aerial image pixel classification and gathering data from sensor networks.

  • River sensor network: A number of environmental sensors are currently being developed to continuously measuring stream habitat conditions as a sensor network to be connected to the World Wide Web.

Education/Community Services

  • Courses: Rushing Rivers Institute offers a series of courses teaching applications and uses the MesoHABSIM technique to students and professionals. Short introduction courses are offered at meetings and conferences as well as week-long detailed training in theory, data collection and software use. Curricula is also promoted for river restoration engineers and offer guest lectures on the status of riverine environment and river science.
  • Advocacy, Information campaigns, Events, River walks/canoe trips: The scientists from Rushing Rivers Institute consider it a moral obligation of river scientists to take the stand in the protection of these precious and highly important resources of our planet. They recognize that this will not happen without support of the society and consider public education and information campaign absolutely crucial. They are organizing information campaigns, recreational and educational events for public and legislators to inform the society about the need for the protection and more intelligent management of these precious resources.[2]

Current projects

Reconnaissance study on Wekepeke Brook

Rushing Rivers Institute was approached by Nestlé Waters to investigate the ecological impacts of spring water withdrawals on fish and invertebrate habitat in adjacent streams, and to develop assessment and mitigation methodology applicable for site determination. This pilot project should use, as a case study, the site on Wekepeke Brook, a tributary of the Nashua River in central Massachusetts. This site has recently been investigated for possible development by the corporation and the project takes advantage from the available materials and work already invested in data collection. In collaboration with environmental consultants already involved in the planning process and the staff of Nestlé Waters, this scientific study of the watershed is conducted in a number of incremental steps leading to the creation of a transferable method for ecologically sound impact assessment, prevention and mitigation. The goal is to create a groundbreaking approach in corporate resource stewardship, where the company takes responsibility for the improvement of the ecological status of the rivers and streams rather than focusing solely on impact mitigation. The gains in habitat for fish and invertebrates will be applied as a metric for measuring the project impact and of ecological improvements repairing damage caused by the historical use of rivers as well as by current uses of unrelated parties. The catalog of improvement options and recommendations will be presented to the company as a result. Rushing Rivers conducts this project in collaboration with its associates and other independent scientists. To assure scientific credibility the project will undergo independent peer-review in a scientific workshop including renowned river scientists and resource management organizations.

Development of draft environmental flow recommendations for the Saugatuck River watershed

The Nature Conservancy in consultation with the Aquarion Water Company of Connecticut, Inc. contracted with a scientist from Rushing Rivers Institute to conduct a scientific investigation of the ecosystem components of the Saugatuck River system, with a primary focus on those portions of the Saugatuck and Aspetuck rivers that lie below Aquarion’s reservoir dams. The study will focus their review on riverine fish and other significant plant and animal elements of the river system that may include sensitive or threatened taxa; hydrology and geomorphology; physical and chemical characteristics of the river and its tributaries; and floodplain ecosystems associated with the lower Saugatuck river system and on the development of the MesoHABSIM model. The model and review will identify, to the extent possible, the specific flow requirements necessary to meet the needs of these species and communities throughout their various life stages. The review should also describe what is known about the current status of river ecosystem health in the Saugatuck in relation to what is known about reference conditions and serve as a knowledge base for the environmental flow recommendations workshop, planned as a part of the Ecologically Sustainable Water Management (ESWM) framework from the Saugatuck River.

Lamprey River

The goal of the Lamprey River instream flow assessment and water management plan is the determination of Protected Instream Flow (PISF) values for designated reaches. PISF values must be established that protect legislatively mandated instream public uses, outstanding characteristics, and resources entities, which may constrain water use by affected water users in the Lamprey River basin. Consideration of PISF levels in relation to current and projected water use patterns in the basin will be an integral component of the water management plan.

Under leadership of Normandeau Associates Inc., Rushing Rivers is mapping the Lamprey River for specific fish habitats to develop a water management plan. Besides habitat mapping, the study includes scuba diving in impoundments, monitoring for mussels, dragonfly nymphs and fish and the computation of physical habitat model. The influence of water levels in riparian and emergent wetlands on aquatic habitat and endangered species are modeled by scientists from Normandeau Associates. The hydrological analysis, including concurrent flow measurements, simulation of pre-colonial time series and ground water monitoring are conducted by UNH hydrologists. The collected data and models will support multi-criteria decision analysis, which is a foundation for a water management plan for the Lamprey River. There are many groups of stakeholders involved in the development of the plan, and the study team coordinates with involved parties and the state of New Hampshire.

This pilot program of New Hampshire for the determination of instream flows for designated river segments is the culmination of years of discussions on the need for, geographic scope of and method of instream flow regulation statewide. It will evaluate both the scientific methodology for establishing an instream flow as well as the institutional framework developed to provide technical oversight and to solicit input from all stakeholders. This river that was affected by humans in many ways from recreation to water withdrawals and water returns from a wastewater treatment plant is the first project for Rushing Rivers in New Hampshire.[3]


  1. Webmaster, "About Us - Rushing Rivers Institute". Rushing Rivers Institute. October 27th 2008 <>.
  2. Webmaster, "Services, Rushing Rivers Institute". Rushing Rivers Institute. October 27th 2008 <>
  3. Webmaster, "Current Projects - Rushing Rivers Institute". Rushing Rivers Institute. October 27th 2008 <>.