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River Restoration and Meanders

G. Mathias Kondolf, University of California - Berkeley

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Abstract

Among the most visually striking river restoration projects are those that involve the creation of a new channel, often in a new alignment and generally with a form and dimensions that are different from those of the preproject channel. These channel reconstruction projects often have the objective of creating a stable, single-thread, meandering channel, even on rivers that were not historically meandering, on rivers whose sediment load and flow regime would not be consistent with such stable channels, or on already sinuous channels whose bends are not symmetrical. Such meandering channels are often specified by the Rosgen classification system, a popular restoration design approach. Although most projects of this type have not been subject to objective evaluation, completed postproject appraisals show that many of these projects failed within months or years of construction. Despite its, at best, mixed results, this classification and form-based approach continues to be popular because it is easy to apply, because it is accessible to those without formal training in fluvial geomorphology, and probably because it satisfies a deep-seated, although unrecognized, cultural preference for single-thread meandering channels. This preference is consistent with 18th-century English landscape theories, which held the serpentine form to be ideal and led to widespread construction of meandering channels on the country estates of the era. The preference for stability in restored channels seems to be widely accepted by practitioners and funders despite the fact that it is antithetical to research showing that dynamically migrating channels have the greatest ecological richness.

Key words

river restoration; meandering channels; cultural preferences; channel classification
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087