Making Room for Rivers

By Margaret Wooster

Subjects: New York/regional, Environmental Studies, General Interest, Public Policy, Indigenous Studies
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438484686, 204 pages, August 2021
Hardcover : 9781438484679, 204 pages, August 2021

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


Part I: Words for Flowing Water

1. Words for Flowing Water

2. A New Phrase

3. Finding an Oxbow

Part II: Unraveling

4. Nuisance

5. When Streams Unravel: A Tale of Buffalo Creek

6. How a Good Stream Goes Bad

Part III: Meander (and Other Parts of Stream Anatomy)

7. Meander and Physical Integrity

8. Life below the Flow

9. Whatever Happened to Groundwater?

10. Hill Made of Water

Part IV: Value Change for Survival

11. Terra Nullius

12. Delta

13. Making Room for Rivers


Draws on the author's own experiences as a watershed planner, teacher, and activist to tell the story of the Great Lakes region's experiment in restoring a complicated natural system of flowing water.


Meander tells the story of the Great Lakes region's experiment in restoring a complicated natural system of flowing water. Drawing on her own experience as a watershed planner, teacher, and Great Lakes activist, Margaret Wooster describes the language, history, and failures of many of our water management policies. She then turns to Buffalo Creek to teach us how the Great Lakes work—from a "hill made of water" to a cut-off oxbow to a buried delta transitioning from two centuries of industrialization. Wooster explores how, on the Niagara Frontier especially, traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous values were suppressed by colonial rules of settlement. The ecosystem value of physical integrity—or connectivity between upstream and down, surface flow to aquifer, river to land was never fully unpacked. While our management policies often sever them, these connections are key to Buffalo Creek and Great Lakes recovery and resilience. Wooster leaves us with the idea that it is up to us, the people who live along these flows and in their watersheds, to learn as much as we can about these connections and to use our local authorities to "make room for rivers" and protect our planet's circulatory system for future generations.

Margaret Wooster has worked as a watershed planner for local governments and environmental groups in Western New York, was a founding member of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, and has taught Environmental Planning at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. She is the author of Living Waters: Reading the Rivers of the Lower Great Lakes, also published by SUNY Press. She lives in Buffalo, New York.


"Wooster offers a voice of hope, chronicling successes in improving a local watershed while offering suggestions applicable to readers across a much wider geography." — CHOICE

"Among the few individuals left from the golden era of modern-day environmentalism to write about book about the need to protect and preserve our Great Lakes rivers, who better to do it than Margaret Wooster." — Niagara At Large

"Making room for rivers—and for a lot of other things we've tried to improve and accelerate and modernize—is a good rallying cry for our beleaguered planet; this book will cheer you, and spur you on!" — Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

"Meander is written in captivating personal prose by a mature activist, river scientist, and storyteller. Margaret Wooster stretches a diversity of disciplines ranging from planetary geology to hydromorphology, from federal and state policymaking to town hall deliberations, from the macroeconomics of water to the irreplaceable financial value of local open space and melds them all together into her irrefutable vision that rivers are a key pillar of community. The scope of her narrative centers in the value of the living river's vitality to our own quality of life, health, and spirit. It is a scientific and historic love story. All who have worked on behalf of water will become immersed in Wooster's dialogue with her own creeks, rivers, and lakes and find there validation for their own efforts. It is a thorough chronical of Great Lakes activism, policy, and issues (solved, festering, and emerging). It is a portal into the future of river protection and a welcoming must read for anyone who wishes to join the fray." — Elaine Marsh, Cofounder of Friends of the Crooked River (the Cuyahoga)

"Meander is both interesting and important. Wooster is uniquely qualified to write authoritatively about the historical land management of watersheds within Western New York; she has the requisite knowledge of history, policy, water quality, geomorphic processes, and the integrity of aquatic and riparian ecosystems. She also weaves anecdotal stories and experiences from her life in these environments that adds a personal and meaningful dimension to the narrative." — Sean J. Bennett. University at Buffalo