Increasing floodplain connectivity through urban stream restoration increases nutrient and sediment retention

Ecological Engineering
By:  and 



Stream restoration practices frequently aim to increase connectivity between the stream channel and its floodplain to improve channel stability and enhance water quality through sediment trapping and nutrient retention. To measure the effectiveness of restoration and to understand the drivers of these functional responses, we monitored five restored urban streams that represent a range of channel morphology and restoration ages. High and low elevation floodplain plots were established in triplicate in each stream to capture variation in floodplain connectivity. We measured ecosystem geomorphic and soil attributes, sediment and nutrient loading, and rates of soil nutrient biogeochemistry processes (denitrification; N and P mineralization) then used boosted regression trees (BRT) to identify controls on sedimentation and nutrient processing. Local channel and floodplain morphology and position within the river network controlled connectivity with increased sedimentation at sites downstream of impaired reaches and at floodplain plots near the stream channel and at low elevations. We observed that nitrogen loading (both dissolved and particulate) was positively correlated with denitrification and N mineralization and dissolved phosphate loading positively influenced P mineralization; however, none of these input rates or transformations differed between floodplain elevation categories. Instead, continuous gradients of connectivity were observed rather than categorical shifts between inset and high floodplains. Organic matter and nutrient content in floodplain soils increased with the time since restoration, which highlights the importance of recovery time after construction that is needed for restored systems to increase ecosystem functions. Our results highlight the importance of restoring floodplains downstream of sources of impairment and building them at lower elevations so they flood frequently, not just during bankfull events. This integrated approach has the greatest potential for increasing trapping of sediment, nutrients, and associated pollutants in restored streams and thereby improving water quality in urban watersheds.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Increasing floodplain connectivity through urban stream restoration increases nutrient and sediment retention
Series title Ecological Engineering
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoleng.2017.08.006
Volume 108
Issue A
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Eastern Branch
Description 12 p.
First page 284
Last page 295
Country United States
State North Carolina
County Mecklenburg County
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