Evaluation of river restoration by local residents

Seidl, R., and M. Stauffacher, 2013: “Evaluation of river restoration by local residents.” Water Resources Research, v. 49, doi: 10.1002/2013WR013988.

Today, river corrections aiming at better flood protection must consider ecological aspects such as “naturalness” and biodiversity. Gaining acceptance among local residents for these projects is important, since they impact local infrastructure and alter the familiar landscape. The question addressed in this paper is whether there are differences between local residents regarding the question of whether they think a river restoration project at a section of the Swiss Thur River was reasonable. We also investigate whether there are differences regarding the reasons for this evaluation, such as improved flood protection, higher perceived naturalness, increased biodiversity, and aesthetics. Results show that for farmers flood protection and naturalness are more important factors than for others and that there are differences among the local villages.

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Ecologically relevant geomorphic attributes of streams are impaired by even low levels of watershed effective imperviousness

Vietz, G.J., M.J. Sammonds, C.J. Walsh, T.D. Fletcher, I.D. Rutherfurd, and M.J. Stewardson, 2013: “Ecologically relevant geomorphic attributes of streams are impaired by even low levels of watershed effective imperviousness.” Geomorphology, doi: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2013.09.019.

Urbanization almost inevitably results in changes to stream morphology. Understanding the mechanisms for such impacts is a prerequisite to minimizing stream degradation and achieving restoration goals. However, investigations of urban-induced changes to stream morphology typically use indicators of watershed urbanization that may not adequately represent degrading mechanisms and that commonly focus on geomorphic attributes such as channel dimensions that may be of little significance to the ecological goals for restoration. We address these shortcomings by testing if a measure characterizing urban stormwater drainage system connections to streams (effective imperviousness, EI) is a better predictor of change to ecologically relevant geomorphic attributes than a more general measure of urban density (total imperviousness, TI). We test this for 17 sites in independent watersheds across a gradient of urbanization. We found that EI was a better predictor of all geomorphic variables tested than was TI. Bank instability was positively correlated with EI, while width/depth (a measure of channel incision), bedload sediment depth, and frequency of bars, benches, and large wood were negatively correlated. Large changes in all geomorphic variables were detected at very low levels of EI (< 2–3%). Excess urban stormwater runoff, as represented by EI, drives geomorphic change in urban streams, highlighting the dominant role of the stormwater drainage system in efficiently transferring stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces to the stream, as found for ecological indicators. It is likely that geomorphic condition of streams in urbanizing watersheds, particularly those attributes of ecological relevance, can only be maintained if excess urban stormwater flows are kept out of streams through retention and harvesting. The extent to which EI can be reduced within urban and urbanizing watersheds, through techniques such as distributed stormwater harvesting and infiltration, and the components of the hydrologic regime to be addressed, require further investigation.

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Impact of India’s watershed development programs on biomass productivity

Bhalla, R.S., K.V. Devi Prasad, and N.W. Pelkey, 2013: “Impact of India’s watershed development programs on biomass productivity.” Water Resources Research, v. 49, pp. 1568-1580, doi: 10.1002/wrcr.20133.

Watershed development (WSD) is an important and expensive rural development initiative in India. Proponents of the approach contend that treating watersheds will increase agricultural and overall biomass productivity, which in turn will reduce rural poverty. We used satellite-measured normalized differenced vegetation index as a proxy for land productivity to test this crucial contention. We compared microwatersheds that had received funding and completed watershed restoration with adjacent untreated microwatersheds in the same region. As the criteria used can influence results, we analyzed microwatersheds grouped by catchment, state, ecological region, and biogeographical zones for analysis. We also analyzed pre treatment and posttreatment changes for the same watersheds in those schemes. Our findings show that WSD has not resulted in a significant increase in productivity in treated microwatersheds at any grouping, when compared to adjacent untreated microwatershed or the same microwatershed prior to treatment. We conclude that the well-intentioned people-centric WSD efforts may be inhibited by failing to adequately address the basic geomorphology and hydraulic condition of the catchment areas at all scales.

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A decade of geomorphic and hydraulic response to the La Valle Dam Project, Baraboo River, Wisconsin

Greene, S.L., A.J. Krause, and J.C. Knox, 2013: “A decade of geomorphic and hydraulic response to the La Valle Dam Project, Baraboo River, Wisconsin.” Journal of the American Water Resources Association, doi: 10.1111/jawr.12100.

We investigate stream response to the La Valle Dam removal and channel reconstruction by estimating channel hydraulic parameter values and changes in sedimentation within the reservoir. The designed channel reconstruction after the dam removal included placement of a riffle structure at the former dam site. Stream surveys undertaken in 1984 by Federal Emergency Management Agency and in 2001 by Doyle et al. were supplemented with surveys in 2009 and 2011 to study the effects of the instream structure. We created a model in HEC-RAS IV and surface maps in Surfer© using the 1984, 2009, and 2011 surveys. The HEC-RAS IV model for 2009 channel conditions indicates that the riffle structure decreases upstream channel shear stress and velocity, causing renewed deposition of sediment within the former reservoir. We estimate by 2009, 61% of former reservoir sediments were removed during dam removal and channel reconstruction. Between 2009 and 2011 renewed sedimentation within the former reservoir represented approximately 7.85% of the original reservoir volume. The HEC-RAS IV models show the largest impacts of the dam and riffle structure occur at flood magnitudes at or below bankfull. Thus, the riffle and the dam similarly alter channel hydraulics and sediment transport. As such, our models indicate that the La Valle Dam project was a dam replacement rather than a removal. Our results confirm that channel reconstruction method can alter channel hydraulics, geomorphology, and sediment mobility.

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Assessment of consequences of sediment deficit on a gravel river bed downstream of dams in restoration perspectives: Application of a multicriteria, hierarchical and spatially explicit diagnosis

Rollet, A.J., H. Piégay, S. Dufour, G. Bornette, and H. Persat, 2013: “Assessment of consequences of sediment deficit on a gravel river bed downstream of dams in restoration perspectives: Application of a multicriteria, hierarchical and spatially explicit diagnosis.” River Research and Applications, doi: 10.1002/rra.2689.

As regards river restoration, it is fundamental to better link human pressures and environmental responses and to take into consideration not only target species or habitat but diverse ecological elements. This permits to assess sustainable restoration plan, especially concerning sediment augmentation below dams. The use of a hierarchical multicriteria approach on the Ain River permits us to assess a diagnosis of sediment deficit impact integrating several morphological (channel shifting, river bed degradation and river bed coarsening) and ecological components (Riparian and floodplain lake and fish communities). Our diagnosis also integrates a temporal and spatial approach better to link human pressures and environmental responses and to identify the dam effects amongst other drivers (e.g. grazing decline and channel regulation). The results confirm causality links between sediment deficit and slight channel bed degradation (0.01 m.year−1) or channel bed paving and thus highlight the impact of the dam on the drying of the riparian forest and on former channel community. However, the relationship between incision and reduction in active channel lateral mobility is more difficult to establish. The role of sediment deficit in the current variability of the riparian regeneration capacity and, thereby, landscape diversity along the lower valley remains unclear. This study also confirms the relevance of using different ecological indicators, notably because all components present different adjustment time scales, whereas some of them are more sensitive to other impacts.

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Restoring aquatic ecosystem connectivity requires expanding inventories of both dams and road crossings

Januchowski-Hartley, S.R., P.B. McIntyre, M. Diebel, P.J. Doran, D.M. Infante, C. Joseph, and J.D. Allan, 2013: “Restoring aquatic ecosystem connectivity requires expanding inventories of both dams and road crossings.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, v. 11, pp. 211-217, doi: 10.1890/120168.

A key challenge in aquatic restoration efforts is documenting locations where ecological connectivity is disrupted in water bodies that are dammed or crossed by roads (road crossings). To prioritize actions aimed at restoring connectivity, we argue that there is a need for systematic inventories of these potential barriers at regional and national scales. Here, we address this limitation for the North American Great Lakes basin by compiling the best available spatial data on the locations of dams and road crossings. Our spatial database documents 38 times as many road crossings as dams in the Great Lakes basin, and case studies indicate that, on average, only 36% of road crossings in the area are fully passable to fish. It is therefore essential that decision makers account for both road crossings and dams when attempting to restore aquatic ecosystem connectivity. Given that road crossing structures are commonly upgraded as part of road maintenance, many opportunities exist to restore connections within aquatic ecosystems at minimal added cost by ensuring upgrade designs permit water flow and the passage of fish and other organisms. Our findings highlight the necessity for improved dam and road crossing inventories that traverse political boundaries to facilitate the restoration of aquatic ecosystem connectivity from local to global scales.

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Record-setting algal bloom in Lake Erie caused by agricultural and meteorological trends consistent with expected future conditions

Michalak, A.M., E.J. Anderson, D. Beletsky, S. Boland, N.S. Bosch, T.B. Bridgeman, J.D. Chaffin, K. Cho, R. Confesor, I. Daloğlu, J.V. DePinto, M.A. Evans, G.L. Fahnenstiel, L. He, J.C. Ho, L. Jenkins, T.H. Johengen, K.C. Kuo, E. LaPorte, X. Liu, M.R. McWilliams, M.R. Moore, D.J. Posselt, R.P. Richards, D. Scavia, A.L. Steiner, E. Verhamme, D.M. Wright, and M.A. Zagorski, 2013: “Record-setting algal bloom in Lake Erie caused by agricultural and meteorological trends consistent with expected future conditions.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1216006110.

In 2011, Lake Erie experienced the largest harmful algal bloom in its recorded history, with a peak intensity over three times greater than any previously observed bloom. Here we show that long-term trends in agricultural practices are consistent with increasing phosphorus loading to the western basin of the lake, and that these trends, coupled with meteorological conditions in spring 2011, produced record-breaking nutrient loads. An extended period of weak lake circulation then led to abnormally long residence times that incubated the bloom, and warm and quiescent conditions after bloom onset allowed algae to remain near the top of the water column and prevented flushing of nutrients from the system. We further find that all of these factors are consistent with expected future conditions. If a scientifically guided management plan to mitigate these impacts is not implemented, we can therefore expect this bloom to be a harbinger of future blooms in Lake Erie.

Open Access

Damned if you do, dammed if you don’t: Debates on dam removal in the Swedish media

Jørgensen, D., and B.M. Renöfält, 2013: “Damned if you do, dammed if you don’t: Debates on dam removal in the Swedish media.” Ecology and Society, v. 18, doi: 10.5751/ES-05364-180118.

Dam removal is an increasingly common practice. Dams are removed for various reasons, with safety, economics, and ecosystem restoration being the most common. However, dam removals often cause controversy. Riparian land owners and local communities often have a negative view of removal, and their reasons vary. It may be the loss of recreational benefits such as swimming and boating, loss of cultural and historical context tied to the dam, or fear that removal may have a negative effect on aesthetic values. Because controversies are often picked up by local media, and media in itself is an important channel to build support around a cause, the way in which dam removals are reported and discussed in the media is likely to influence the debate. Here, we examine the ways in which proponents and opponents of dam removal frame the services provided by two contrasting ecosystems, i.e., an existing dam and the potential stream without a dam, by performing a media discourse analysis of the reasons given for removal and the reasons presented for the dam to remain in place. Our source material includes Internet-based newspaper articles and their associated public comments in four dam removal controversies in Sweden. Our analysis indicates that public opposition is not based on knowledge deficiency, where more information will lead to better ecological decision-making, as is sometimes argued in dam removal science; it is instead a case of different understandings and valuation of the environment and the functions it provides.

Open Access

Faustian bargains? Restoration realities in the context of biodiversity offset policies

Maron, M., R.J. Hobbs, A. Moilanen, J.W. Matthews, K. Christie, T.A. Gardner, D.A. Keith, D.B. Lindenmayer, and C.A. McAlpine, 2012: “Faustian bargains? Restoration realities in the context of biodiversity offset policies.” Biological Conservation, v. 155, pp. 141-148, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2012.06.003.

The science and practice of ecological restoration are increasingly being called upon to compensate for the loss of biodiversity values caused by development projects. Biodiversity offsetting—compensating for losses of biodiversity at an impact site by generating ecologically equivalent gains elsewhere—therefore places substantial faith in the ability of restoration to recover lost biodiversity. Furthermore, the increase in offset-led restoration multiplies the consequences of failure to restore, since the promise of effective restoration may increase the chance that damage to biodiversity is permitted. But what evidence exists that restoration science and practice can reliably, or even feasibly, achieve the goal of ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity, and under what circumstances are successes and failures more likely? Using recent reviews of the restoration ecology literature, we examine the effectiveness of restoration as an approach for offsetting biodiversity loss, and conclude that many of the expectations set by current offset policy for ecological restoration remain unsupported by evidence. We introduce a conceptual model that illustrates three factors that limit the technical success of offsets: time lags, uncertainty and measurability of the value being offset. These factors can be managed to some extent through sound offset policy design that incorporates active adaptive management, time discounting, explicit accounting for uncertainty, and biodiversity banking. Nevertheless, the domain within which restoration can deliver ‘no net loss’ offsets remains small. A narrowing of the gap between the expectations set by offset policies and the practice of offsetting is urgently required and we urge the development of stronger links between restoration ecologists and those who make policies that are reliant upon restoration science.

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Joint analysis of stressors and ecosystem services to enhance restoration effectiveness

Allan, J.D., P.B. McIntyre, S.D.P. Smith, B.S. Halpern, G.L. Boyer, A. Buchsbaum, G.A. Burton, Jr., L.M. Campbell, W.L. Chadderton, J.J.H. Ciborowski, P.J. Doran, T. Eder, D.M. Infante, L.B. Johnson, C.A. Joseph, A.L. Marino, A. Prusevich, J.G. Read, J.B. Rose, E.S. Rutherford, S.P. Sowa, and A.D. Steinman, 2012: “Joint analysis of stressors and ecosystem services to enhance restoration effectiveness.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1213841110.

With increasing pressure placed on natural systems by growing human populations, both scientists and resource managers need a better understanding of the relationships between cumulative stress from human activities and valued ecosystem services. Societies often seek to mitigate threats to these services through large-scale, costly restoration projects, such as the over one billion dollar Great Lakes Restoration Initiative currently underway. To help inform these efforts, we merged high-resolution spatial analyses of environmental stressors with mapping of ecosystem services for all five Great Lakes. Cumulative ecosystem stress is highest in near-shore habitats, but also extends offshore in Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Michigan. Variation in cumulative stress is driven largely by spatial concordance among multiple stressors, indicating the importance of considering all stressors when planning restoration activities. In addition, highly stressed areas reflect numerous different combinations of stressors rather than a single suite of problems, suggesting that a detailed understanding of the stressors needing alleviation could improve restoration planning. We also find that many important areas for fisheries and recreation are subject to high stress, indicating that ecosystem degradation could be threatening key services. Current restoration efforts have targeted high-stress sites almost exclusively, but generally without knowledge of the full range of stressors affecting these locations or differences among sites in service provisioning. Our results demonstrate that joint spatial analysis of stressors and ecosystem services can provide a critical foundation for maximizing social and ecological benefits from restoration investments.

Open Access