NAME: Bill Zeedyk
AGE: 72 years
MILES DRIVEN TO
EDUCATE THE MASSES: 35,000-40,000 per year.
FAVORITE ROAD FOOD:
Nestle’s Crunch bars. He eats them by the box.
CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT: A
seven-foot walking stick, cut from a century plant while hiking in
the El Concillo Mountains. It serves as a pointer during his
presentations and keeps him upright in deep water. “And
sometimes it’s also my brain. I use it to generate
ideas,” he says. “I can’t exist without my
PROJECTS: “Let the Water Do the Work,” a
“profusely illustrated” book to be published by the
In a two-hour conversation
about rivers, Bill Zeedyk never once uses the word
Instead, the stocky, soft-spoken
septuagenarian speaks of a river as if it’s an animal –
one that migrates in seasonal floods, erodes banks to make room for
itself, and struggles to evolve a level of flow that will nurture
the surrounding habitat.
But that balance can be
difficult to achieve in the delicate landscapes of the arid
Southwest. Invasive trees can armor a stream’s banks and
force it to dig too deep and fast, while cattle can overgraze
grasses and shrubs that prevent erosion. Mismanaged rural roads can
gash a stream’s channel like a knife opening a blood vessel.
Zeedyk has spent more than a decade developing
“induced meandering” – a technique using wood and
rock structures to help damaged streams “re-evolve” a
healthy flow. He’s promoted his restoration methods through
the Quivira Coalition – an environmental organization that
works with ranchers and conservationists throughout the West
– and Zeedyk Ecological Consulting, LLC, a “two-person
show” he runs with his wife out of their home in Sandia Park,
Zeedyk has put hundreds of thousands of miles on his
pickup traveling around the Southwest to give his induced
meandering workshops. One of his trips takes him more than 200
miles to Comanche Creek in northern New Mexico, where he’s
worked with the state environmental department to restore habitat
for the nearly endangered native cutthroat trout.
beard framing his weathered face, brimmed hat riding low over his
eyes, a staff in his hand, Zeedyk resembles a wandering wizard as
he watches for clues to the Comanche’s problems. He examines
the stream with the studied patience he developed as a teenager,
fishing and canoeing in New Jersey and Maryland -- a trait later
honed over 35 years as a Forest Service biologist.
he breaks out diagrams and sketches to teach a mixed crowd of
ranchers, conservationists, scientists, fly-fisherman and other
volunteers how to turn the gullied waterway into a more riparian
area of green trees and lush grass that supports an array of plants
But first he has to get his audience to
think like a river.
“That’s actually the
hardest part,” Zeedyk says. “It’s difficult for
them to understand what a healthy riparian [environment] looks
To demonstrate, he shows before-and-after
pictures of his baby: The Pueblo Colorado Wash in Ganado, Ariz.
When Zeedyk took on that project with the Park Service
and the Navajo Nation in 1997, the wash was a 12-foot-deep incised
arroyo as wide as an elevator shaft, choked with invasive tamarisk
and Russian olive trees. Today, canopies of cottonwoods and tender
tribes of willows populate sandbars along a channel as wide as a
four-lane highway. Grasshoppers tick and fly through bulrush reeds
as long as Zeedyk’s forearm. Tracks of mule deer and coyote
pattern along the trickling current.
doesn’t talk too long. It’s time to build the
They fit along the stream channel almost like
the fixtures in a pinball machine. The volunteers set up baffles
– thick wooden posts arranged like half-buried bowling pins
that bounce a stream’s current into an opposite bank and
create a meander that will slow the flow. They install wicker-weirs
– small fences of woven sticks and branches that create
riffles. They build post veins that angle out into the current like
paddles and capture sediment to grow sandbars that eventually host
trees and grasses along the banks.
Zeedyk likes to see
the crowd working with their hands.
“There seems to
be a mentality that the quickest way to do something is with a
bulldozer. That’s not necessarily true. You can change the
course of a river by hand. So I’ve been trying to develop
techniques that empower individuals to try rather than say,
‘It’s not worth it to try.’ ”
Zeedyk’s ideas might move against some human currents. He
remembers a hands-on exhibit at a local museum that ran water
through a sandbox and challenged visitors to prevent erosion.
Zeedyk set up miniature versions of his structures in the
water’s path, then watched a group of people approach the
They tore out his structures and built dams.
The author is a freelance writer based in