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The Significance of Meander Restoration for the Hydrogeomorphology and Recovery of Wetland Organisms in the Kushiro River, a Lowland River in Japan

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Abstract

The meanders and floodplains of the Kushiro River were restored in March 2011. A 1.6-km stretch of the straightened main channel was remeandered by reconnecting the cutoff former channel and backfilling the straightened reach, and a 2.4-km meander channel was restored. Additionally, flood levees were removed to promote river–floodplain interactions. There were four objectives of this restoration project: to restore the in-stream habitat for native fish and invertebrates; to restore floodplain vegetation by increasing flooding frequency and raising the groundwater table; to reduce sediment and nutrient loads in the core wetland areas; to restore a river–floodplain landscape typical to naturally meandering rivers. In this project, not only the natural landscape of a meandering river but also its function was successfully restored. The monitoring results indicated that these goals were likely achieved in the short term after the restoration. The abundance and species richness of fish and invertebrate species increased, most likely because the lentic species that formerly inhabited the cutoff channel remained in the backwater and deep pools created in the restored reach. In addition, lotic species immigrated from neighboring reaches. The removal of flood levees and backfilling of the formerly straightened reach were very effective in increasing the frequency of flooding over the floodplains and raising the water table. The wetland vegetation recovered rapidly 1 year after the completion of the meander restoration. Sediment-laden floodwater spread over the floodplain, and approximately 80–90% of the fine sediment carried by the water was filtered out by the wetland vegetation.

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