A strategy to assess river restoration success

S. WOOLSEY, F. CAPELLI, T. GONSER, E. HOEHN, M. HOSTMANN, B. JUNKER, A. PAETZOLD, C. ROULIER, S. SCHWEIZER, S. D. TIEGS, K. TOCKNER, C. WEBER and A. PETER

FRESHWATER BIOLOGY (2007) 52, 752–769

Abstract

  • Elaborate restoration attempts are underway worldwide to return human-impacted rivers to more natural conditions. Assessing the outcome of river restoration projects is vital for adaptive management, evaluating project efficiency, optimising future programmes and gaining public acceptance. An important reason why assessment is often omitted is lack of appropriate guidelines.
  • Here we present guidelines for assessing river restoration success. They are based on a total of 49 indicators and 13 specific objectives elaborated for the restoration of low- to midorder rivers in Switzerland. Most of these objectives relate to ecological attributes of rivers, but socio-economic aspects are also considered.
  • A strategy is proposed according towhich a set of indicators is selected from the total of 49 indicators to ensure that indicators match restoration objectives and measures, and that the required effort for survey and analysis of indicators is appropriate to the project budget.
  • Indicator values are determined according to methods described in detailed method sheets. Restoration success is evaluated by comparing indicator values before and after restoration measures have been undertaken. To this end, values are first standardised on a dimensionless scale ranging from 0 to 1, then averaged across different indicators for a
    given project objective, and finally assigned to one of five overall success categories.
  • To illustrate the application of this scheme, a case study on the Thur River, Switzerland, is presented. Seven indicators were selected to meet a total of five project objectives. The project was successful in achieving ‘provision of high recreational value’, ‘lateral connectivity’ and ‘vertical connectivity’ but failed to meet the objectives ‘morphological and hydraulic variability’ and ‘near natural abundance and diversity of fauna’. Results from this assessment allowed us to identify potential deficits and gaps in the restoration project. To gain information on the sensitivity of the assessment scheme would require a set of complementary indicators for each restoration objective.