Assessment techniques

Restoration Assessment Techniques

by: T. Lameman Austin


For several decades, ecologists and scientists alike have been working toward developing and improving scientifically defensible stream riparian and wetland assessments (Stevenson 2002). These assessment tools provide a definitive procedure for evaluating the complex ecological condition and functional capacity of an ecosystem using a finite set of observable field indicators (Brinson et al. 1996; Kleindl et al. 2009). They are aimed provide information to fulfill permitting requirements, satisfy water quality standards, and guide management and regulatory decisions. The selection of assessment methods depends up on the user's intent, objectives, geographic area, wetland type, desired level of detail, and availability of applicable models. More importantly, the results of assessments can be translated into restoration designs and implementation along with long - term monitoring protocols (Kleindl et al. 2009).

The term restoration is used in different ways; however, it can be defined as, the re-establishment of the structure, functions and natural diversity of an area that has been altered from its natural state(Pess et al. 2003). Cortina et al. defines restoration in terms of the simultaneous increase of the structure and function in an ecosystem due to human intervention. In ecological restoration, the structure and function are considered attributes of the whole ecosystem. Structure might refer to the geomorphology, hydrology, soil, water quality, and vegetation. Functions might refer to the services they provide such as detaining flows, groundwater storage and recharge, filtering pollutants, food webs, plant succession, and diversity of aquatic habitats. The loss of ecosystem services provided by naturally functioning river systems is a worldwide problem caused by pollution, loss of habitat structure, loss of access to habitat, and invasion of exotic species (Costanza 2000). Ecological assessments are generally useful in determining whether the function of a system is impaired to the point that restoration is necessary (Stevenson 2006).

In the United States, billions of dollars are being spent on stream and river restoration (Palmer et al. 2005; Bernhardt et al. 2005). Yet, the outcome of river restoration are marked by inadequacies that have applied the wrong spatial scale to understanding the complexity and dynamic nature of ecosystems and their attributes (Beechie 2008; Hauer and Lorang 2004). Hauer and Lorang argue that processes that occur at a landscape scale are largely driven by both structure and function. However, restoration efforts are typically directed toward site-specific scales such as a specific wetland or toward a single-species. Successful restoration of river ecosystems and their physical, biological and chemical integrity require careful planning and innovative management approaches that consider the appropriate spatial and temporal scales of their variability and the anthropogenic impacts. (Kerans and Karr, 1994; Hauer and Lorange 2004).
This paper sets out to examine assessment techniques directed toward river restoration, including wetland and riparian systems, and its role in systemically gathering information for achieving improved management decisions and effective restoration strategies. Approaches including the functional capacity assessments, biological assessment, as well as rapid assessment methods will be discussed. An overview of existing rapid assessment methods (RAMs) and technical considerations that have been developed for use in state and tribal programs will be provided. Although most of the literature reviewed for RAMs are specific to wetland ecosystems they are applicable to floodplain and riparian systems. Consideration of post-restoration techniques including monitoring and adaptive management will also be discussed.

Scales of Assessment
Although assessment methods vary in quantitative detail of the data collection, the level of scale at which assessments are performed has considerable effects on the resolution of the results (Kleindl et al.2009). The ability to accurately assess ecological function is complicated by the fact that wetlands vary in type, in time and in space, which directly influences their functional ability. Numerous assessment techniques have been implemented on a variety of spatial scale and intensity (Sutula et al. 2006) (Figure 1). However, it is important to note that no one assessment approach can address and capture all the complexities of the ecological systems. The intensity of the methods range from complex and time -intensive (e.g. HGM) to quick and relative qualitative (e.g. rapid assessments); while, the spatial scale can vary from the watershed level (e.g., Landscape Level Functional Assessment [LLFA]) to site-specific (e.g., Index of Biotic Integrity [IBI]). Assessments conducted on a regional-scale tend to generate coarser results since it does not develop the assessment models necessary to be applied rapidly in the field while be sensitive enough to detect changes in function at the appropriate level of resolution (Kleindl et al. 2009).


Figure 1. Plot of intensity of assessment versus scale of assessment (after Sutula et al 2006)
Recognizing the spatial extent of the assessment is important to establish as riparian and wetlands exhibit distinct characteristics. Although wetlands share these characteristics, they also perform on a wide range of geologic, climate, and physiographic situations (Brinson 1996). This variability poses a challenge to developing assessment methods that are practical for end users to conduct in a short period of time and accurate in that the method can detect significant changes in function.

It is important assessments distinguish factors effecting variability. River systems are not static. Variability can occur as part of a natural cycle, from diurnal to seasonal fluctuations. For example, dissolved oxygen varies diurnally in response to the photosynthetic activity of plants producing oxygen. Variability can also occur due to anthropogenic activity such high aquatic plant production (e.g. algal blooms) in response to nutrients from runoff or sewage. Errors in sampling or analysis can also attribute to variability of the assessment (Reed 2003).

Reference site
Assessment methods should include reference conditions. These reference conditions serve as benchmarks which assessment scores for the study area can be compared against (Reed 2003; Brinson; 1993; Palmer et al. 2005; Pess 2003; Hauer et al. 2003). The reference site should also include a range of variation in condition across a gradient of disturbance from most disturbed to least disturbed (Brinson 1996; Reed 2003). Palmer et al. (2005) stated that in order to frame restoration goals reference sites should be selected to represent the waters in the absence of or relatively undisturbed by human impacts. Identifying reference sites for large river systems poses challenges since the upper reach might be less impacted than the lower reaches. Thus, choosing a heavily impaired river reach as a reference condition to "move away from" might be a practical approach in some cases.

Assessment endpoints
Some methods are developed to assess function. Function is defined as an ecological process occurring over time or more simply, "the processes that wetlands do." (Smith et al. 1995). Identifying function requires repeated measures that quantify rates of processes over time. There is a distinction between methods that assess condition versus those that measure function. Functional capacity assessments often focus on the capacity to perform individual functions and provide more detailed information, while the condition-based assessments produces a general evaluation that combines multiple functions and provides the overall ecological health of a system based on the combined scores (Hauer et al. 2003). The type of approach should be clearly defined and based on management questions being investigated (Brinson 1996; Stevenson and Hauer 2002).

Assessment goals and objectives
During evaluation and selection of different assessment methodologies, it is vital that the goals, need and intent of the user are clearly defined. Different methods have been developed for different reasons and no single method will likely accommodate all scenarios. It is only through a careful definition of user requirements and how this relates to the intent of the different functions can one begin to select the most appropriate approach.

Identifying the goals and objectives of an assessment aimed to restore a system must be clearly defined and realistic (Palmer et al 2005; Dahm et al. 1995). Often times, managers tend to define restoration goals as mimicking historical site conditions when the historical setting of the area is unknown. Palmer et al. (2002) argue that rather than trying to reach for unachievable conditions the goal should support minimal degradation of the river while achieving the most ecologically dynamic state possible. An ecologically dynamic state is one in which the biological, hydrological and geomorphic features of the natural system vary in abundance and composition both spatially and temporarily, as in reference sites. An ecologically dynamic state also implies that these natural systems are resilient to outside disturbances.

Assessment Techniques

Numerous assessment techniques that characterize the current state of natural systems have been developed for varying purposes but with the ultimate goal of managing and restoring ecosystems. A variety of protocols have different approaches that range from subjective and visual-based to objective and quantitative-based (EPA 2004). This paper compiled various assessments developed by agencies with specific assessment goals and intent (Table 1). However, only a few select methods will be discussed.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has developed the Site Assessment and Investigation and Stream Visual Assessment (VA) Protocols. They provide a multidisciplinary inventory and assessment for stream restoration (NRCS 2007). The process-based framework assesses the past, present, and future states of watershed dynamics, identifies resource needs to support the selection and design of restoration activities, and measures the outcomes and successes of restoration activities. The VA assessments assist in the pre- and post-assessment of restoration by evaluating: dominant fluvial processes, anthropogenic impacts to fluvial systems, and the status of restoration designs. The assessment protocols have been helpful for landowners to implement channel stabilization structures (NRCS 2007).

The NRCS technique collectively assesses the hydrologic, geologic, and biological attributes of a stream system. An initial assessment of the stream flow duration and classification is based on field criteria such as channel, flow duration, bed water level, aquatic insects, material movement, channel materials and organic material. Changes in sediment supply in the system, sediment transport, change in bank erodibility, or a combination of these factors determine whether a channel is stable or unstable. The biological component records the presence of pools and riffles in order to assess the potential of fish productivity. NRCS assessments are flexible and often incorporate two common biological indices, the Index of Biological Integrity (IBI) and the Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichopera (EPT) Index. The IBI utilizes fish surveys to assess anthropogenic impacts on a stream and its watershed (Kerans and Karr 1994). Since fish are sensitive species to an array of stresses and their population demonstrates effects of reproductivity failure or mortality, they are useful in measuring degradation in watersheds. The EPT index uses bethic macroinvertebrates (e.g. mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies) as indicators to assess land use and water quality within a watershed. The bottom-dwelling organisms serve as indicators of the effects the immediate area they are found. The EPT index is based on the grounds that the greater the impacts (e.g. pollution) the less the species richness is found, as only a few species are tolerant to pollution. The biological methods mentioned above are commonly used in assessment protocols and in completion with the reference condition approach (Bowman and Somers).

Integrated ecological assessment (IEA) is another assessment technique developed by Stevenson (2006). Not only does the IEA method assess the biological condition of attributes in the ecosystem it can detect pollutants and anthropogenic activities that may be the cause of problems. Examples of biological (structural) attributes that can be measured and assessed include aquatic macrophytes, algae, and aquatic insects (Stevenson and Hauer 2002). The IEA uses algae as a key indicator since they serve as an important component of food webs in most aquatic ecosystems. Excessive buildup of algal biomass alters the system by depleting the dissolve oxygen available, changing the habitat structure for fish and aquatic invertebrate, and diminishing the aesthetics of drinking water supplies, and producing a toxic by-product substance. Algae biomass is measured by sampling chlorophylla, cell densities, and cell volumes or by direct visual assessment (Secchi disk and rapid periphyton surveys). Diatoms are commonly used in these assessments than green algae or cyanobacteria due to their quick identification and dominant presence.

On the broader spectrum, a landscape scale assessment offers an assessment of stream channel and in support of riparian habitat restoration needs (Meixler and Bain 2009). This quantitative assessment technique uses spatial analysis tools to efficiently assess stream quality and identifying priorities for conservation management. Changes in stream and riparian health can be determined using GIS rather than traditional field methods. This assessment is intended to be cost-effective and rapid, and can be readily updated. The study evaluated the East Credit subwatershed in Ontario, Canada which had impaired water quality and degraded stream channels, thus targeted for restoration practices. Land cover data, digital elevation models (DEMs), road shapefiles, railroad shapefiles, 1:100,000-scale streams and drainage delineates were compiled for each reach. A stream channel condition index (SCCI) was calculated using information on land cover, road and railroad density, and sinuosity while the riparian condition index used estimates of percent forest, and vegetation patch density based on land cover in the floodplain. Each reach was classified in restoration classes based on the indices and the results of the model land ownership, slope, position in the subwatershed, and adjacency to high-quality habitat. The priority ranking from the GIS model was compared with the field based classification and the GIS-based method generated fairly accurate results. The Skagit Watershed Council also incorporated GIS analysis to conduct assessments by estimating changes in sediment supply due to land use by extrapolating from sediment budgets in select tributary watersheds in northwestern Washington State. The method resulted in identifying sediment supply classes as either similar to the natural background rate, or significantly higher than the background rate due to land use activities.

Table 1. Varying assessment techniques developed with varying indices measured
Assessment Technique
Stream Assessment and Investigation; Stream Visual Assessment Protocol
Hydrological, geological, biological
Idaho River Ecological Assessment
Hydrological, biological, ecological
Watershed Condition Framework
U.S. Forestry Service
Hydrological, geomorphological, ecological
Landscape Scale Assessment
Meixler and Bain (2010)
Hydrological and geological
Rapid Bioassessment
Stream Corridor Assessment Survey
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Instream and near-stream habitat conditions
Environmental Methods Assessment Program (EMAP)
Hydrological, physical and biological
Assessing Proper Functioning Condition
BLM, U.S. Forestry Service, NRCS
Riparian health
Breeding Land-Bird Assessment
Biotic Integrity
Rich, T.(2002)
Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (B-IBI)
Kerans and Karr (1994)
Biological (invertebrate assemblages)
Rapid Assessment of the Functional Condition of Stream-Riparian Ecosystems in the American Southwest
Stacey et al.(2006)
Hydrological,physical and biological
NOAA and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Hydrological and biological
Framework for Assessing Ecological Condition
Hydrological, geomorphological, ecological
Vegetation Composition Methods
US Forest Service
Hydrogeomorphic Functional Capacity
US Army Corp. of Engineers
Hydrological and geomorphological
Rapid Assessment Methods
Various state programs
Hydrological, biological, and physical
Integration of Hydrogeomorphic and and IBI
Stevenson and Hauer
Hydrological, geomorphological, biological
Benthic Assessment of SedimenT (BEAST)

Listening to Watersheds
River Network
Hydrological, biological, chemical, cultural
Three-tiered assessment framework
Solek et al. (2011)
Hydrological, biological, chemical

Rapid Assessment Methods

Alarmed by the diminishing water quality of the nation's streams and lakes, as well as the degradation of wetlands and the valuable benefits they provide, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 was enacted. This legislation later became the Clean Water Act (CWA) and included requirements to improve water quality and specific limitations on the development of wetlands. Through this act, wetlands turned out to be the only land type to be regulated on both private and public lands within the United States (EPA 2004; Stevenson and Hauer 2002). In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corp of Engineers released a rule that advocated the use of functional assessments in mitigation monitoring and performance evaluation. With that ruling came the need for rapid assessments that would assess wetland and riparian function.

Rapid assessment methods (RAMs) are dynamic tools aimed to be robust, economical, and easily applicable to assess wetland and riparian function (Sutula et al 2006); however, they often do not provide the right sorts of information with enough details and accuracy. The RAMs are intended to evaluate the ecological condition or function of wetland and riparian systems using a fixed set of observable field indicators, such as plant community and structure, hydrology, physical structure. If developed effectively, they can provide information that: assesses the ecological condition or integrity of wetlands to document the extent of degradation; provide early warning of ecosystem stress or degradation; determines the effectiveness of management actions; and, tracks wetland condition for regulatory programs charged with wetland management, restoration, and mitigation (EPA 2004). It is important to note that RAMs do not necessarily evaluate the same wetland function and the methods may emphasize different function, or they may measure function different.

There are range of RAM guidebooks and field manuals that have been developed for use by tribal and state programs. States including California, Maryland, and New Mexico have made initiatives to develop new assessment methods or modified existing wetland and riparian assessment methods to suit their specific physiographic area. In spite of their varying physiographic area, each RAM method should consider how to define the assessment area when in the field, how to integrate different wetland types into the application of the method, how scoring is organized, whether or not certain functions should be recognized for their value or the ecosystem services they provide (Brinson 1996). This section provides an overview of select rapid assessment methods developed for restoration measures.

Hydrgeomorphic (HGM)
The HGM assessment is a reference-based tool developed to assess condition (using functions as currency) relative to data obtained from a class of relatively undisturbed wetlands. (Stevenson and Hauer 2002, Rheinhardt et al.1999, Brinson et al. 1996). Developed by the Army Corp of Engineers, the HGM was initially designed to facilitate the Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting program to assess unavoidable project impacts, determine mitigation requirements, and monitor the success of the mitigation projects. A variety of other potential applications include managing wetlands and restoration prioritization, implementation, and monitoring (Brinson 1996). Although the Corps has encouraged the use of HGM in the Section 404 context, the HGM approach is rarely implemented due to time and budget constraints and the overall scientific complexity of the method (Reinhardt et al. 1999).

Its reference-based approach acknowledges a suite of reference sites that are located in a similar geomorphic setting, and the same physiographic or biogeographic region, and share similar water source and hydrodynamics (Brinson 1995; Rheinhardt et al 1999; Kleindl et al. 2009). These reference sites range from undisturbed to most disturbed in order to determine reference standards and calibrate model variables (Brinson 1995). The HGM restricts the reference data to subclass of wetlands and develops standards based on conditions reflecting the unaltered subset of reference sites, so that the method is sensitive to detecting alterations versus methods that attempt to evaluate wetlands among different hydrogeomorphic settings using a same set of criteria. Structures can be categorized as hydrologic, biogeochemical, and habitat. Functions may include nutrient cycling, groundwater or surface water storage, and maintaining aquatic food webs. Each function is characterized by attributes that are can be measured by the degree to which is occurs and its response to anthropogenic disturbances. As functions are difficult to measure directly, the HGM method has developed and calibrated a model for each function that occurs based on various indicators. These indicators, also referred to as metrics or variables, provide component scores which can be mathematically combined to evaluate wetland functions or attributes that contribute to function. Wetlands in the calibration dataset are of the same HGM class, and range from least to most disturbed (Kleindl et al. 2009).

The drawback with the HGM approach is the considerable upfront time and resources to develop a guidebook for the HGM subclass project area (Rheinhardt et al. 1999). It involves researching and designing a reference database of subclasses from areas extending across the biogeographic, developing and calibrating models representing key functional and structural attributes of the subclass, evaluated which rapid field measurements are most useful for detecting responses, and developing standards from the reference data. It also requires field testing of the guidebook so that accuracy and validation of the models are maintained. Although there is significant upfront time associated with developing the field protocols, the field assessments are designed to be conduct rapidly.

Rapid Bioassessments Protocols (RBP)
The RBP developed by the EPA is a commonly-used rapid approach that offers states, tribes, and local agencies cost-effective biological assessments of lotic systems (Barbour et al 1999). The RBP is a synthesis of existing methods including protocols for assessing aquatic assemblages (periphyton, benthic macroinvertebrates, fish) and habitat assessment, and their functional parameters (or metrics) (Kerans and Karr 1994; Barbour et al 1999). Taxa richness has been one of the most applicable metrics to evaluate pollution effects and the overall health of a community (Kerans and Karr 1994). It provides a measure of the complexity of a community and may be related to important aspects of biological integrity such as functional construction, redundancy, and stability. The RBP involves comparing habitat (e.g. flow regime, physical structure), water quality, and biological measures with empirically defined reference site conditions. Its wide application in numerous states is due to its quick and inexpensive field methods.

The RBP encompasses the multmetric IBI and EPB approach to assessing biological integrity. IBI was initially developed to meet water quality and biocriteria mandated by the Clean Water Act (Barbour et al 1999; Stevenson and Hauer 2002). The IBI serves as a tool that uses the structure of fish and its various attributes (known as metrics) to evaluate water quality. Metrics including the total number of species, proportion of individuals in found in different trophic levels, quantity of pollution-sensitive tax, which are all examples of structural characteristics that respond to different levels of anthropogenic impact (Kerans and Karr 1994; Stevenson and Hauer 2002). Depending on the magnitude of the metrics, they are assigned a score of minus, zero, or which is translated as 1, 3, or 5, respectively. The IBI is then calculated as the total of metric scores for a sample which gives a range of 12 to 60 for a single, site -specific score. Karr designed the score to classify the biological health as poor, fair, good, and excellent. The reason the IBI approach is widely accepted is due to its greater transferability and accuracy demonstrated across various regions (Stevenson and Hauer 2002).

The RBP also incorporates periphyton (algae) as indicators of short-term impact due to their inexpensive and simple sampling methods. However, their application in monitoring programs has not been widely used as IBI. Benthic macroinvertebrates (or EPT index) are anther commonly used technique for site-specific assessments since they are good indicators of localized conditions. Its assemblages can make up a wide range of trophic levels and pollution tolerances make this inexpensive and simple method more practical for programs to implement. Assessing physical habitat quality in RBPs is an integral component for the final evaluation of impairments.

The physical assessments are based on two reference conditions that are site-specific and regional representing upstream conditions and relatively undisturbed conditions, respectively. Like other condition references for other techniques, the basis of a reference condition is for comparison purposes and detecting use impairment (Barbour 1999). Effects of habitat restoration on two small Kentucky streams were assessed using the RBP. Habitat assessments and fish species assemblage surveys were conducted for three sectors of each streams. The protocols demonstrated to be well suited for quantitative assessments of fish assemblages for small stream sectors with limited impacts (Price et al. 2005). However, the application of RBPs for use in numeral water quality criteria for regulatory purposes has been criticized due to the biased sampling procedures (Courtemanch 1996).

Rapid Steam- Riparian Assessment (RSRA)
The RSRA is a method for rapid assessment of the functional condition of riparian and associated aquatic habitats in the Southwest (Stacey et al 2006). This method evaluates the degree to which natural processes predominate in the stream-riparian ecosystem and if there is sufficient terrestrial and aquatic habitat complexity to support the diversity of native plant and animal communities. The RSRA is a qualitative assessment based on quantitative measurements of two to seven indicator variables in five function components. The components are water quality, stream channel and floodplain morphology, the presence of habitat for native fish and other aquatic species, vegetation composition and structure (including occurrence of non-native species), and terrestrial wildlife habitat. Each variable is rated on a scale that ranges from "1", representing highly impacted and non-functional conditions, to "5", representing a healthy and completely functional system. The scores were compared against defined reference sites that contain similar ecological and geophysical characteristics, with minimal anthropogenic impacts. The variables represent the overall function and health of the stream-riparian ecosystem.

Like other RAMs, the RSRA aims to develop protocols that are economical and efficient in the field. The variables (or metrics) developed can be measured rapidly in the field with minimal use of specialized equipment. The scoring of the variables (Table 2) are based on current conditions rather than developing a prediction of a future state. The protocols can be used by specialist plus lay-people including ranchers with some initial training. The time frame to complete the field assessment is within two to three hour period. With the simplicity of evaluating only current conditions, the developers of this method argue that it can be extended to adaptive management approaches. The application of RSRA is limited to low and mid-gradient watercourses with lower and middle elevation in the southwest. Thus, application to large streams in higher elevations (mountainous regions) with higher gradients is not suitable (Stacey et al 2006).

Table 2. Variables measured in the RSRA technique
Water Quality
Algal growth
Floodplain connection and inundation
Vertical bank stability
Hydraulic habitat diversity
Riparian area soil
Aquatic habitat
Riffle-pool distribution
Underbank cover
Riparian Vegetation
Riparian zone plant community structure and cover
Non-native herbaceous plant species
Tree demography and recruitment

Jicarilla Rapid Assessment of Functions (JRAF): A case study

The JRAF was developed for the Jicarilla Apache Nation (New Mexico) to develop protocols for assessing the functions of riverine floodplains in the Navajo River with broader application to the nearby Rio Grande and Colorado Headwater River systems. The JRAF is a field guide that was designed to support the prioritization of riparian areas for restoration, enhancement, preservation, and land management efforts; provide baseline data for land management opportunities; and serve as a tool for the tribe's long-term monitoring program (Kleindl et al. 2009).

The format of the JRAF employed a simplified model of the HGM approach to functional assessment of wetlands. The wetlands in the region were classified as riverine wetlands which occur in the floodplain and riparian corridors in association with stream channels. Next, a profile of the wetland classes were selected by the tribe and researchers based on its geology, hydrology, biogeochemistry, plant and animals communities, and human-induced alterations that occurred. Reference standard wetlands that were relatively unaltered were found in southern Colorado and used as benchmarks to measure indicators and field variables, and were used to further develop models. A scoring methodology for variables that distinguished the reference standard wetlands from those that are degraded were followed by combining the variables into the HGM models of functions. The developers field tested the field guide for accuracy and so that the end user can apply the models quickly in the field. Less emphasis was placed on data collection and analysis, and more emphasis on rapid field assessments while using the best professional judgments of the end users (Kleindl et al. 2009).

The application component of the JRAF consisted of assessment protocols with specific instructions for the end user to assess the functions of a particular wetland area. The user can conduct the field assessment by assessing the variables and using them to calculate functional indices that yield a 0, representing unrecoverable loss of ecosystem function, or a 1, representing a highly functional ecosystem (Kleindl et al. 2009). The drawback with the JRAF is the substantial upfront time and energy associated with developing the models for the particular region. Although the title suggests, the JRAF does not exactly measure the function of the wetland ecosystem but its underlying processes. It also does not provide species-specific information such as fish, birds, and wildlife often needed by planners and regulators for a variety of purposes (e.g. Endangered Species Act). However, if the tribal members are well-trained to use the JRAF then its application can be a powerful tool.

Post Assessment Techniques

Although there is an increasing commitment of restoring streams and rivers, a huge majority of these projects have not undergone evaluation (Kondolf 1995). In some projects, no post-project evaluation has been performed whereas other projects do not plan far in advance to develop evaluation results that is of beneficial use. In other cases, little is known about the outcomes of the project due to little or lack of monitoring and evaluation before or after project implementation (Bernhardt et al. 2005; Wohl et al. 2005). The primary reasons for poor reporting of results are primarily due budget constraints and a non-requirement of post project evaluation by funding agencies. Regardless, there needs to protocols established in restoration techniques for both pre-restoration and post-restoration monitoring and accountability purposes (Wohl et al. 1995). Without post assessment, there are no lessons learned from either of the projects� successes and/or failures.

Evaluation of the restoration of 104 km2 floodplain and 70 km of river within the Kissimmee basin provided insight and recommendation for future work (Kondolf 1995).
River and stream restoration projects must develop systematic post-project evaluation and publish the results in order to avoid the rankings of high percentage of project failures. As such, Kondolf has defined methods that evaluate for project success:

  • Develop clear objectives - Successful watershed and habitat restoration requires clearly explicit and specific goals, objectives, and decision criteria that will allow for accountability (Kondolf 1995; Pess 2003). The objective statement might include identifying the target species, factors limiting the population, and which factors can be altered in the project. They should be clear in order for the selection of variable to be measured during the evaluation period.

  • Baseline data - To provide an objective basis for evaluating environmental change in the system caused by the project. Collection of baseline data should begin far in advance of the restoration construction. Recording changes in conditions should correlate with predicted outcomes, as collecting it may serve useless if the right data is not collected.

  • Good study design - To show the effects of restoration project in the river system through quantifiable change, which might imply measuring the same variables over the same period of time at other reference or control sites.

  • Long-term commitment - To determine changes in the system long after implementation of restoration has been in place. This might include evaluating the riparian revegation which requires years of recruitment and growth before success can be absolutely measured. A decade is reasonable period of time to which commitment is necessary for an evaluation to be truly reported.

Adaptive Management
Existing institutional frameworks function under the assumption of static and equilibrium ecological systems. The complexity and variability of natural systems are often not recognized in regulatory and legal frameworks (Benson and Garmestoni 2010). Nuanced approaches such as adaptive management have the flexibility necessary to incorporate concepts of resilience and variability to incorporate into management decisions.

Adaptive management is a resource management approach that is an iterative process of decision-making while striving to lessen the uncertainty in ecological systems through consistent monitoring. It is an underutilized management approach that defies discrete conclusions based on science, by recognizing that our understanding of natural systems is constantly (Benson and Garmestoni 2010).It requires testing of the predictions of the natural system and its response so that learning occurs as the project unfolds and allows for management decisions to be reexamined and revised based on new information.
Adaptive management has been utilized in various resource management disciplines, such as agriculture, watershed management, oil and gas development, and species protection. In river management, it is applied at various spatial scales from local project on a small river reach to basin-scale management. Since river systems are highly variable and complex, applying adaptive management to the design of restoration and post-monitoring makes this a valuable approach (Beechie et al. 2008). Adaptive management can also be applicable to projects that appear to be failing initially (Palmer et al. 2007).


The selection of the assessment technique should be carefully evaluated with consideration of the end user's intent and goals and should also be sensitive to detect responses in the region which the assessment will be conducted. The user should also consider methodology of ranking the variables or functions of the systems and how its qualitative or quantitative-based context will affect the overall outcome. There are shortcomings with certain assessment approaches such as its use of "best professional judgment" which could contribute to inconsistent applications or the significant amount of time and energy required to develop assessment protocols; however, in the end, the overall motivation remains the same, which is understanding and evaluating the health and functions of our ecosystems.

Billions of dollars are currently spent restoring streams and rivers, yet most projects are never monitored after restoration and information describing the success or failure of these projects are often undocumented and disseminated (Palmer et al. 2007; Berhardt et al 1999). In order to account for successful restoration projects, they require clear and specific goals, objectives, and decision criteria and evaluation methods (Pess 2003; Wohl 2005; Kondolf et al. 2005; Palmer et a.l 2007). Strategies need to transmit spatial and temporal scales appropriate target level to lessen uncertainties. Tools such as assessment techniques, stream classification systems, predictive models, and the development of restoration strategies facilitate in the improvement of restoration projects and making decisions. A variety of assessment approaches have been designed for specific ecosystems and regional areas of interest; however, they serve as practical tools to identify and prioritize actions to support the goals and objectives of the restoration scheme. They identify impaired systems and the causes of degradation of river systems, including their habitat structure and habitat losses, and anthropogenic impacts. Ultimately, the results of the assessment can assist with improving management decisions and effective restoration strategies (Beechie et al 2008).

Subsequent documentation of decisions and monitoring response allows managers to formally adopt adaptive management plans that further address uncertainty in restoration actions. Linking science with management and social objectives and treating each result as a learning lesson will ultimately lead to a greater understanding of how aquatic ecosystems and watersheds function and can be rehabilitated. More importantly, restoration techniques should be geared toward supporting the system to function with minimal intervention and upholding the capacity to recover from natural disturbances.

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