Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Utah
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Pennock, C.A., Budy P, Macfarlane, WW. 2022. Effective conservation and restoration of desert riverscapes requires conservation and restoration of in-stream flows with rehabilitation approaches tailored to water availability. Invited: Frontiers in Environmental Science 10:870488. doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2022.870488. USGS FSP IP- 138466.


Desert riverscape restoration practitioners must contend with compounding effects of increasing human water demand, persistent drought, nonnative species establishment, and climate change, which further stress desert riverine ecosystems such as rivers in the Colorado River basin, USA. Herein, we provide our perspective on the importance of natural flows, large floods in particular, for successful conservation and restoration of riverscapes. We present ideas developed from our experience with restoration projects across multiple desert tributary rivers with varying levels of habitat degradation and water abstraction. We propose broad-scale measures such as protection of in-stream flows, tailoring restoration efforts to available annual water availability, and working with nature using low-tech process-based techniques to more completely address the mechanisms of habitat degradation, such as flow reduction and vegetation-induced channel narrowing. Traditionally, restoration efforts in the Colorado River basin take place at relatively fine-scales, at convenient locations and, largely focus on reducing nonnative plant and fish species. We suggest that we need to think more broadly and creatively, and that conservation or restoration of natural flow regimes is crucial to long-term success of almost all management efforts for both in-stream and riparian communities.