Approaches to defining reference regimes for river restoration planning

Friday, 19 December 2014: 12:05 PM
Timothy J Beechie, Northwest Fisheries Sci Ctr, Seattle, WA, United States
Reference conditions or reference regimes can be defined using three general approaches, historical analysis, contemporary reference sites, and theoretical or empirical models. For large features (e.g., floodplain channels and ponds) historical data and maps are generally reliable. For smaller features (e.g., pools and riffles in small tributaries), field data from contemporary reference sites are a reasonable surrogate for historical data. Models are generally used for features that have no historical information or present day reference sites (e.g., beaver pond habitat). Each of these approaches contributes to a watershed-wide understanding of current biophysical conditions relative to potential conditions, which helps create not only a guiding vision for restoration, but also helps quantify and locate the largest or most important restoration opportunities. Common uses of geomorphic and biological reference conditions include identifying key areas for habitat protection or restoration, and informing the choice of restoration targets. Examples of use of each of these three approaches to define reference regimes in western USA illustrate how historical information and current research highlight key restoration opportunities, focus restoration effort in areas that can produce the largest ecological benefit, and contribute to estimating restoration potential and assessing likelihood of achieving restoration goals.