Public Works and Environmental Services

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our administrative offices are open 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Mon - Fri

TTY 711

12000 Government Center Parkway
Suite 449, Fairfax, Va 22035

Craig Carinci,
Director, Stormwater Planning

Fairfax Recovery Wheel

A holistic tool for restoration project selection, assessment, and monitoring

In general, benefits of stream restoration include stream stability, pollution prevention and/or increase in ecosystem services, including plant and animal habitat. Project selection aims to improve quality of life factors like infrastructure protection, flood mitigation and permit compliance. Stream restorations can affect the stream corridor adjacent to the channel. As such, any negative consequences of a project, particularly regarding the local tree canopy, must be minimized.

Recognizing that each proposed stream restoration effort is complicated and unique, Fairfax County has developed the Recovery Wheel tool to help evaluate systems, establish goals, direct design and communicate the effect of the restorative actions.

Recovery wheels are not available for every project. Wheels currently available are a subset of active projects, selected based on feasibility and timing during the development of this tool. As the recovery wheel becomes an accepted best practice, more projects will have a wheel developed.


The Recovery Wheel includes 24 metrics across six interdisciplinary subject areas.

The biological categories:

  • Riparian structural diversity (stream corridor condition),
  • Aquatic structural diversity (stream condition) and
  • Species composition (biodiversity).

The physical stream condition categories:

  • Physiochemical (measures of water quality and erosion)
  • Physical conditions (flooding and transport).

And external exchanges, a socio-cultural category, includes safety, infrastructure, and community engagement.

Metrics are independently measured with defensible, scientific-based techniques. Scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best possible condition. These broad subjects are further dissected; for example, riparian structural diversity, includes measures of the native woody species planted and naturally occurring in the area immediately adjacent to the stream and across the width of the floodplain. This metric is associated with ecosystem functional traits related to bird habitat, floodplain sediment trapping efficiency, and forest health and succession; that is, more shrub and tree stems (up to a certain point) are correlated with higher ecosystem function.

Each metric is measurable, changes in response to management action, and related to valuable ecosystem functional traits.

We illustrate the holistic assessment using the Fairfax Recovery Wheel (Figure 1), a modification of the Society for Ecological Restoration recovery wheel best practice (Gann GD, McDonald T, Walder B, Aronson J, Nelson CR, Jonson J, Hallett JG, Eisenberg C, Guariguata MR, Liu J, Hua F, Echeverria C, Gonzales, EK, Shaw N, Decleer K, Dixon KW. 2019. International principles and standards for the practice of ecological restoration. Second edition. Restoration Ecology S1-S46).

Click photo to enlarge

Fairfax Recovery Wheel
Figure 1. The Recovery Wheel, based on the ecological recovery wheel created by the Society for Ecological Restoration.  The focus is on assessment and monitoring based on 24 metrics of program drivers and ecosystem function.

Reading the Wheel

Success is shown by obtaining a more colorful wheel. The current target score is 3 or higher. The more colorful the image, the healthier the stream corridor condition; however a healthy stream will also be balanced across all metrics. Where restoration effects are predicted, a second color shows design potential (Figure 2). This holistic tool can be used to better understand stream health across multiple disciplines in response to the multi-metric priority of ecosystem health.

These are the Recovery Wheels for the Flatlick II stream restoration, with both a pre-restoration condition and the condition as assessed 3-years post restoration.

Click photos to enlarge

Figure 2a: Recovery Wheel


Figure 2b: Recovery Wheel


Figure 2. When present, blue highlighted metrics were measured or estimated. Where the blue metrics are in the center, 3 rings or less, these are areas of potential recovery. Orange highlighted metrics show an estimated score from the design specifications. Green metrics are post-restoration measurements. Metrics/spokes that are all gray were not assessed.

Many of the metrics post restoration at Flatlick II are showing improvement over the pre-restoration condition (we see more green than blue). Other metrics, like tree canopy cover take time to re-establish. Repeating the monitoring at 10-years post restoration should show an increase in these metrics that are less responsive.

Recovery Wheel Projects

Image Gallery

Limited bank armoring was installed as well as reconnecting the floodplain.
Limited bank armoring was installed as well as reconnecting the floodplain (note wrack on live stakes), logs that allow for under bank flow and other rock and coarse woody debris habitat features.

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