Urban Rivers: Hydrology, Geomorphology, Ecology and Opportunities for Change



This article describes how urban development impacts on the processes that control river geomorphology and influence ecology. At the catchment scale, urban development transforms the hydrological system through construction of impervious surfaces and stormwater drainage systems. River water and sediment quality also are affected by stormwater and waste water drainage and by point and diffuse inputs of pollutants. Within the river channel network, widespread river engineering improves floodwater conveyance but imposes major changes in river network and channel characteristics. The results of an analysis of Urban River Survey data from 143 channel reaches in three European rivers (the River Tame, UK; the River Emscher, Germany; and the River Botic, Czech Republic) are presented to demonstrate the strong influence of river channel engineering on channel structure, physical habitat features and vegetation patterns. This analysis also shows the surprisingly varied character of urban rivers and thus their differential potential to respond to rehabilitation efforts. Because the success of river rehabilitation efforts depend not only on a scientific understanding of form and process within urban river systems but also on the acceptance and support of urban communities and integration within urban design and planning, the article briefly explores the coupling of natural and social science approaches to drive a more sustainable future for rivers in cities.