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The natural sediment regime in rivers: broadening the foundation for ecosystem management

May 7, 2015

Water and sediment inputs are fundamental drivers of river ecosystems, but river management tends to emphasize flow regime at the expense of sediment regime. In an effort to frame a more inclusive paradigm for river management, we discuss sediment inputs, transport, and storage within river systems; interactions among water, sediment, and valley context; and the need to broaden the natural flow regime concept. Explicitly incorporating sediment is challenging, because sediment is supplied, transported, and stored by nonlinear and episodic processes operating at different temporal and spatial scales than water and because sediment regimes have been highly altered by humans. Nevertheless, managing for a desired balance between sediment supply and transport capacity is not only tractable, given current geomorphic process knowledge, but also essential because of the importance of sediment regimes to aquatic and riparian ecosystems, the physical template of which depends on sediment-driven river structure and function.