Cost-effective river rehabilitation planning: optimizing for morphological benefits at large spatial scales
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River rehabilitation aims to protect biodiversity or restore key ecosystem services but the success rate is often low. This is seldom because of insufficient funding for rehabilitation works but because trade-offs between costs and ecological benefits of management actions are rarely incorporated in the planning, and because monitoring is often inadequate for managers to learn by doing. In this study, we demonstrate a new approach to plan cost-effective river rehabilitation at large scales. The framework is based on the use of cost functions (relationship between costs of rehabilitation and the expected ecological benefit) to optimize the spatial allocation of rehabilitation actions needed to achieve given rehabilitation goals (in our case established by the Swiss water act). To demonstrate the approach with a simple example, we link costs of the three types of management actions that are most commonly used in Switzerland (culvert removal, widening of one riverside buffer and widening of both riversides) to the improvement in riparian zone quality. We then use Marxan, a widely applied conservation planning software, to identify priority areas to implement these rehabilitation measures in two neighbouring Swiss cantons (Aargau, AG and Z첩ch, ZH). The best rehabilitation plans identified for the two cantons met all the targets (i.e. restoring different types of morphological deficits with different actions) rehabilitating 80,786 m (AG) and 106,036 m (ZH) of the river network at a total cost of 106.1 Million CHF (AG) and 129.3 Million CH (ZH). The best rehabilitation plan for the canton of AG consisted of more and better connected sub-catchments that were generally less expensive, compared to its neighbouring canton. The framework developed in this study can be used to inform river managers how and where best to spend their rehabilitation budget for a given set of actions, ensures the cost-effective achievement of desired rehabilitation outcomes, and helps towards estimating total costs of long-term rehabilitation activities. Rehabilitation plans ready to be implemented may be based on additional aspects to the ones considered here, e.g., specific cost functions for rural and urban areas and/or for large and small rivers, which can simply be added to our approach. Optimizing investments in this way will ultimately increase the likelihood of on-ground success of rehabilitation activities.
Journal of Environmental Management
Ecology not elsewhere classified