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The Smart Rivers approach: Spatial quality in flood protection and floodplain restoration projects based on river DNA

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Abstract Many river rehabilitation projects have been implemented in the past 30 years, strengthening the natural dynamics and ecology of river systems, while reconciling the functions of flood protection, navigation, sediment extraction, and cultural identity. Still, the planning and design of floodplain projects is subject to debate on how to best follow the “natural” characteristics of specific river stretches, the “DNA of the river.” Unlike many other approaches of integrated river management, this approach entails a design strategy for spatial quality in river floodplain development projects at local and regional level, where the current discharge characteristics of the upstream river basin are taken as given. Starting point is the landscape ecological basis of the river, defining the characteristic (hydro‐morphological) processes and geomorphological/geological structures in each stretch of the river and floodplain area. An in‐depth characterization of these structures and processes helps design floodplains that can accommodate the various river management and development objectives. Often economically strong functions, like flood protection, can be partnered with weaker ones, such as ecosystem restoration. To safeguard spatial quality and sustainability in these integrated projects, the governance aspect is essential. Therefore the Smart Rivers approach addresses both substantial aspects (the “DNA of the River”) as well as procedural and governance elements (called the “Quality Relay”). The principles of the approach are applicable to project design along regulated rivers in densely populated areas all over the world. This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Along the branches of Rhine and Meuse, almost 150 river restoration projects were realized since 1990, often as a coalition of flood protection and nature development. This approach has led to strong ecological recovery and increased spatial quality of the Dutch riverscape
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The Quality Relay: seven properties for successful river rehabilitation projects (Van den Herik, 2015)
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The triangle of spatial quality in designing riverscapes: Schematic picture of a design process in river restoration projects, starting at the base with landscape‐ecological analysis and design, and working toward an increasing level of (local) detail
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The design concept for DNA‐proof groundwater‐fed channels along the Terrace Meuse. Because of the positioning and dimensions these small side channels only contribute very limited to a higher discharge capacity on the river. But dug up material (clay and loam) can be used to build new ring dikes around local villages as well as more innovative “terrace edge dikes,” thus contributing to flood safety as well as nature development (Peters, 2019)
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The design of several side channels in the floodplain of Gameren (location see Figure 1), along the navigation channel of the Waal branch of the river Rhine in the Netherlands. On the left the original situation, with an old brick factory, agricultural use, and several old clay mining pits in 1994. On the right the situation in 2003, 4 years after the reconstruction in 1999. Old excavations have been made part of the new side channel (Photo's: Rijkswaterstaat Oost‐Nederland & RWS‐Beeldbank/Joop van Houdt)
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