USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center Project: River and Stream Ecosystems: Ecology and Restoration

Statement of Problem: Large and small rivers of the US midcontinent have been altered by urbanization and agriculture, and many have been explicitly managed for flood control, navigation, power production, and water supply. Society has recognized that these societal benefits have been accompanied by decreased biodiveristy and diminished ecological function, and therefore there has been increased focus on restoring and managing rivers and streams. This project addresses the scientific foundation needed for ecological management and restoration of streams and rivers.We are presently (2012) focused on two types of highly altered stream environments: urbanized streams and the highly engineered Missouri River. Task 9 addresses benthic insect community characteristics related to stream disturbances, chiefly urban streams in the Kansas City area. Understanding of the functional relations between urban stressors (runoff and point-source pollutants) is critical to design of managment and mitigation strategies.Tasks 6, 7, 8, and 12 address the highly altered Missouri River corridor. The Missouri River has been engineered to support multiple uses including agriculture, navigation, public water supply, flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife resources. Managing the river to accommodate and sustain these multiple uses requires improvements in our scientific understanding of how water, sediment, plants,and animals are linked in the river corridor. In particular, a scientific basis should be developed for increasing the river corridor's capability to sustain natural ecosystems while maintaining traditional economic values. Studies suggest that increases in natural ecosystem values in river corridors may have great recreational and economic benefits, that these benefits may be consistent with increased water quality and flood control, and that these benefits do not necessarily require severe changes in traditional economic use of the river corridor. However, determining of optimal river management requires an improved, quantified scientific understanding of river-corridor processes.CERC has a team of research biologists and hydrologists that focus on the development and synthesis of scientific information for management of rivers. A multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the complex hydrological, biological, and chemical processes involved in highly diverse river and stream ecosystems.

Objectives: The general objective of the River and Stream Ecosystem project is to provide the science foundation for restoration and management of river systems. Specific objectives have changed since the inception of this project as tasks have been completed or moved into other projects. Presently (2012) the specific objectives of the project are:1) Improve understanding of the reproductive ecology of the endangered pallid sturgeon to inform management and restoration of large rivers like the Missouri, Platte, and Mississippi (task 6).2) Improve understanding of the population ecology of the benthic fish community of the Missouri River to help inform restoration and management (task 7).3) Investigate specific linkages among flow-regime management, spawning, and larval drift of pallid sturgeon in the upper Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam, Montana (task 8).4) Investigate and understand relations between benthic insects communities and water quality in disturbed streams and rivers (task 9).5) Apply scientific understanding to design and management of adaptive management programs on large rivers (task 12).These objectives are strongly supportive of the USGS Ecosystems Mission area as it provides fundamental ecological research into physical, chemical, and biological controls on river ecosystem structure and functions. This understanding is critical to informed restoration and managment. Moreover, project scientists are engaged in decision analysis and adaptive management processes to assure that science is incorporated in management and restoration decisions. The project also relates to the USGS Water Resources Mission Area as it addresses how restoration and management of rivers can be optimized for ecosystem services as well as human needs. Similarly, understanding of the fundamental ecology of river systems will be useful in mitigating effects of climate and/or associated land-usechange (Climate Change Mission Area). In particular, the research supports the Fisheries: Aquatic and Endangered Resources program goal: Quantify and describe functional relationships among aquatic species and habitats to provide information to conserve or restore aquatic community structure and function. In addition, the project supports the Terrestrial, Freshwater, and Marine Ecosystems Program goal: Devise restoration and adaptive management frameworks for impaired ecosystems.This research has been designed to support Federal and State partner agencies, and has benefitted from strong reimbursable support, especially from the US Army Corps of Engineers which has contributed $27 million to the project over the last 10 years (mostly task 6). This level of support has highly leveraged USGS Ecosystems Mission Area program dollars and is indicative of the high level of appreciation partner agencies have for the credible, timely science provided by the project.

Relevance and Impact: The role of the USGS is to provide data and analyses to policy makers and managers to assist them in the decision making process. The USGS is the only natural science agency that transcends the jurisdictional boundaries of the Missouri River and has the expertise to provide multidisciplinary information on various scales in support of decision-making. USGS can play a paramount role because natural resource decisions increasingly are at the center of intense economic, political, legal, and value conflicts. The USGS can provide the unbiased, scientific information needed to manage the Missouri River for multiple uses while minimizing conflicts among users.Important contributions from this project include greatly improved understanding of: habitat dynamics on large rivers, reproductive ecology of the endangered pallid sturgeon, relations of invertebrate communities to physical and chemical stressors, understanding of ecological flows on large-river populations and communities, and how genetic structure within the endangered pallid sturgeon population relates to river geography and management opportuntiies. All of these science themes relate strongly to present-day management and restoration decisions. In particular, the project has provided essential information that has been used in decision making within the Missouri River Recovery Program, a multistate effort that has invested over $600 million over the last 10 years to improve river ecosystem functions and services.

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