The science and practice of river restoration

Ellen Wohl, Stuart N. Lane, Andrew C. Wilcox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

442 Scopus citations


River restoration is one of the most prominent areas of applied water-resources science. From an initial focus on enhancing fish habitat or river appearance, primarily through structural modification of channel form, restoration has expanded to incorporate a wide variety of management activities designed to enhance river process and form. Restoration is conducted on headwater streams, large lowland rivers, and entire river networks in urban, agricultural, and less intensively human-altered environments. We critically examine how contemporary practitioners approach river restoration and challenges for implementing restoration, which include clearly identified objectives, holistic understanding of rivers as ecosystems, and the role of restoration as a social process. We also examine challenges for scientific understanding in river restoration. These include: how physical complexity supports biogeochemical function, stream metabolism, and stream ecosystem productivity; characterizing response curves of different river components; understanding sediment dynamics; and increasing appreciation of the importance of incorporating climate change considerations and resiliency into restoration planning. Finally, we examine changes in river restoration within the past decade, such as increasing use of stream mitigation banking; development of new tools and technologies; different types of process-based restoration; growing recognition of the importance of biological-physical feedbacks in rivers; increasing expectations of water quality improvements from restoration; and more effective communication between practitioners and river scientists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5974-5997
Number of pages24
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • dams
  • rehabilitation
  • restoration
  • rivers


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