INHABIT project

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Home Themes & Results Innovative measures (I3)

Proposal of innovative measures for river basin management plans (I3)

In most cases, programmes of measures included in RBMPs do not consider hydro-morphological and habitat information. The only exceptions are definition of so-called ecologically acceptable flows, often based on simple statistical or thumb-oriented rules, with totally or nearly totally undemonstrated beneficial effects on biotic communities, and basic restoration actions on riparian areas, nonetheless more often oriented towards an improved overall public perception than to scientific principles. On the other hand, the WFD, and CEN standards recently approved or presently under discussion, clearly state that many hydro-morphological aspects have to be considered when interpreting water body data collected to derive ecological status classification. Because Biological Quality Elements mainly respond to local-scale, habitat-mediated factors and not to large-scale, geo-morphological features, an obvious consequence, is that the habitat and local hydro-morphological scale is highly pertinent for correctly interpreting biotic response to restoration actions. It is unmistakable that catchment-scale processes are crucial in long term planning i.e. even well beyond the 6-years time scale of management plans, but such spatial scale must be accompanied by more local, biotic-relevant information. The routine monitoring programs adopted by Environmental Agencies at local or regional scale, rarely accounted for simultaneous collection of data for various Quality Elements. Therefore, the relationships between hydromorphological and biological parameters are usually not clearly established and their link to the quality of the water bodies is merely speculative. It appears then clear how it is still necessary, at least in Italy and South Europe, to better understand the links between hydromorphological parameters and BQEs response, also to select the most sensitive indicators for any kind of observed hydromorphological alteration. Catchment plans provide the necessary framework for integrated river basin management. CARAVAGGIO surveys can improve catchment management plans and the regional water protection plans at least by providing: a) a framework for describing the physical character and modification of rivers habitats; b) a basis for setting habitat-related targets and measuring the performance of river management; c) a link with other measures of quality so that river management can take full account of most users’ requirements. The CARAVAGGIO, which includes a much larger spectrum of hydromorphological features than RHS, can for example not only help in determining the value of a river stretch in terms of its habitat quality but also to decide if further hydromorphological analysis are needed, conclusively at a wider spatial scale than the reach itself. Information picked up with CARAVAGGIO can help in determining and predicting in detail the ecological changes on the site-reach scale. This means that it will be possible to decide whether a proposal of measures is likely to have a ‘significant effect’ on the environment. This was widely demonstrated in the UK, where the River Habitat Survey was applied for these purposes. The simple idea behind is that the application of the CARAVAGGIO method will provide elements useful, together with pollution information, to predict the ecological status. Provided what is written above is crucial, obviously the sources for possible impacts can be really far away (e.g. for physio-chemical, chemical and hydromorphological aspects), over space and time. As well, some kinds of hydromorphological impact are properly investigable at the local scale, through CARAVAGGIO for rivers and LHS for lakes, whilst others will need to be investigated at a larger (i.e. catchment) scale. While the focus of the project will stay on a more local i.e. site-reach scale some integrations are proposed for larger scale factors.
The main aim of this Group of actions is to propose integrative measures to river basin plans that can be easily implemented, by looking at a closer detail to water body hydro-morphology and habitat structure. As well, the effectiveness of the presently obtained ecological status classes and proposed measures will be evaluated on the basis of the original way of exploiting hydro-morphological and habitat information (in relation to actions in I1 and I2 groups). The selection of additional, alternative measures will encompass Mediterranean environments i.e. in Sardinia, where quite often usual approaches to river management fail. In fact, in such harsh environmental situation, the effect of natural variability of habitat conditions on biota can largely overpass in importance that of various sources of degradation, whose detection can thus be masked by natural factors and make management measures ineffective. Finally, as far as long-term nitrogen deposition is concerned, reflections will be devoted to integrating them to all other aspects investigated.
Firstly, Group of actions I3 will produce an evaluation of potential effects of ecological classification uncertainty  due to natural, hydro-morphological variability on the proposed WFD RBMPs for the study areas, by including the use of site-specific, habitat information, as an integration to D1 actions. Subsequently, criteria on how to cope with such possible inconsistencies when implementing RBMPs will be defined. Also directly related to the improvement of RBMPs and to facilitate the attainment of good ecological status of water bodies by 2015, measures based on innovative approaches focused on the interaction between hydro-morphology, habitat structure, physio-chemical conditions and biological response, will be recommended. Additionally, such measures will include information to support mitigation of e.g. nitrogen contamination at the local scale.
The actions of this group will concentrate on both rivers and lakes, for the study areas selected, and aim at improving catchment-scale programmes of measures.

Methods employed
The activities in this action group are largely based on the results of previous actions. In fact, the outcomes of Group of actions P, which dealt with the analysis of river management plans and proposed measures for river and lake water bodies to be restored to the good ecological status, will be considered. Particularly, such outcomes will be linked to the results of Group of actions I1, where dedicated data was newly collected to support the delineation of empirical relationships between hydro-morphological and/or habitat information and biological response to natural environmental variability and water body degradation. As well, information gained in Groups of actions with a prevailing demonstration character (D1 and D2), which supports a downscaling of approaches and methods into real case scenarios, will be the basis for analysis and suggestions produced in the present Group of actions. Also, nutrient information, mainly as an output of Groups of actions P and I2, will be matched with other data.
To integrate the site-reach scale approach, recognized as the main focus for the project, some elements at the largest (basin) scale from at least the following aspects will be considered, accordingly with river types under investigation in the four areas:

  • Assessment of the main morphological modification that occurred in the river channel (over the last 50-100 years);
  • Presence of artificial structures;
  • Possible future river evolution;
  • Main processes related to bank erosion;
  • Outline of woody debris pattern along the river (WBs under investigation and adjacent ones);
  • Land erosion trends, sediment transport balance and river longitudinal continuity;
  • Any other hydromorphological aspects whose relevance was highlighted locally in RBMPs for the selected areas.

In particular, for management and measure setting perspectives, the same issues will be considered (in general) during the project in terms of: sediment management; bank erosion character and bank modification; woody debris trends. The above-mentioned aspects will be considered according to the following steps, with emphasis on the investigated water bodies:

  1. Analysis of descriptive information reported/attached to RBMPs;
  2. Detailed analysis of programmes of measures listed in RBMPs and corresponding quality objectives;
  3. Analysis of criteria used for HMWBs designation and their location in the study catchments;
  4. Search for additional sources of information (e.g. scientific literature, reports, restoration projects, aerial photographs);
  5. Integration of information from 1-4 and collection of new data (geomorphological approach, exploratory) at selected locations, if needed;
  6. Matching of information 1-5 with CARAVAGGIO data;
  7. Overall assessment of expected time and spatial scales for quality objectives of measures set, and proposal  of integrative measures (tentative).

These activities will be performed partly by the project beneficiaries, partly by related institutions (e.g. other CNR Institutes) and partly by sub-contracting a geo-morphologists’ team.
Presently, methods for the assessment of hydromorphological features at the catchment scale are not well developed for Italian rivers. A selection of the methods being prepared under the co-ordination of the National Environment Agency (ISPRA) will be adopted.
The most appropriate literature sources will be considered, once the areas for investigation will be selected and real problems there targeted with the due detail, adequately considering the projects undertaken in Italy by e.g. University of Florence, CIRF, Po River Authority, Trentino-Alto Adige Region. Possibly, one of these institutions will be contacted to act as sub-contractor in the project. In more general terms, the most common procedures for setting measures for restoring hydromorphological conditions will be considered, when appropriate, such as: restoration of pool/riffle sequences; improvement of habitat diversification; creation of wetlands areas; prevention of erosional phenomena; enhancement of riparian vegetation; restoration of ‘natural’ channel profiles: re-establishing the environmental gradients along a longitudinal, lateral, and vertical dimensions and across a range of scales. Also, improvement of criteria for DMV (Deflusso Minimo Vitale - Minimum Flow Discharge) will be suggested; as well, the use of bioengineering techniques for reinforcing river and lake banks, instead of the usual hard engineering works, will be locally proposed.
The debate with all interested subjects on the issue of hydromorphology will be promoted and adequately discussed especially in Action D1 and D2. The results of this discussion will be integrated in the Deliverables foreseen for I3 group of actions (especially in I3d2, I3d3, I3d4). In particular, the I3d4 deliverable will be provided in Italian, but an extended summary with key features will be also provided in English.

Obtained results

  • Rivers – Effects of lentic-lotic character on ecological status classification
    In river ecosystems lentic-lotic character (i.e. proportion between lentic and lotic areas in a river) is a key aspect in the definition of habitat features and, consequently, in structuring biotic communities. In INHABIT, aspects related to habitat and lentic-lotic character have been considered in order to improve classification accuracy. To this aim, specific models have been developed relating the variability of STAR_ICMi - and its component metrics - with the lentic-lotic character, and allowing refinements to the expected values reference conditions.
  • Rivers – Proposal of new measures for ecological quality restoration
    Among other objectives, INHABIT project has identified possible measures, especially in terms of habitat, to improve the ecological quality in the investigated water bodies. INHABIT worked in the context of  habitat features known from the literature to have an influence on biological metrics used to assess ecological status. This section briefly presents the results related to the indications for the improvement of habitat quality and some useful indications for the evaluation of the effect of reduction in water discharge on river biocoenosis.
  • Rivers – Approaches for evaluation of anthropic alteration
    In this part of the I3 group of action the importance of using different methods of investigation, complementary to each other, to investigate habitat features and alterations in river ecosystems at different spatial scales is briefly described.
  • Rivers – Detail analyses on habitat-biota relationships
    It is difficult, especially in the Mediterranean area, to distinguish the individual effects of the factors that define the quality gradient, in terms of impact on benthic organisms. During the INHABIT project a large number of biological metrics was analyzed in order to identify the relationships with a number of factors, including those of habitats, and specific anthropogenic pressures.
  • Rivers – System responses to anthropic alterations
    The WFD has represented an important innovation in environmental regulations in Europe; nevertheless its approach is clearly embedded in the established background for the development of assessment systems on the effects of anthropogenic disturbance in aquatic ecosystems. Regarding macroinvertebrates and rivers, the adoption in Italy of a multimetric assessment system (STAR_ICMi) allows to derive indications about the different pressures from each component metric. Within INHABIT a set of additional metrics was also selected, enabling to identify specific impacts or environmental factors that will help to assess the effectiveness of restoration measures.
  • Rivers – Approaches for possible hydromorphological features upscaling
    In this part of the I3 group of actions some considerations on the potential of an up-scaling process for the hydromorphological information in rivers are briefly described. Up-scaling is performed from a detailed scale to a larger scale; the possibility of transferring this information within River Basin Management Plans is also considered
  • Guide to survey and description of river habitats
    In this section the Manual of the CARAVAGGIO method - Survey and description of river habitats - is available. The manual has been published as an issue of the ‘Monografie dell’Istituto di Ricerca Sulle Acque del CNR’ within INHABIT project I3 activity as annex to Deliverable I3d2, in relation to habitat characterization activity. The manual is an essential tool for learning the CARAVAGGIO method, although for its correct application the participation to dedicated training courses is recommended. Courses announcements will be published in this section of the website. Together with the CARAVAGGIO manual,  Software CARAVAGGIOsoft is available; the list of pictures included in the Manual will also be available.
  • Lakes – results I3 - The action group I3 was focused on the importance of habitat and hydromorphological characteristics, as well as on the relationships between the biological quality elements (phytoplankton, macrophytes , macroinvertebrates and fish fauna) and the hydromorphological alterations, such as bank modifications, presence of docks, tourism, recreational use, level fluctuations, habitat loss, land use in the surrounding areas, management of the catchment area, etc. 

The biological quality elements have been investigated according to the national standards; hydromorphological and habitat analyses were based on the Lake Habitat Survey.
The results of the analyses were used to propose new actions and insights for the future Basin Plans.

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