Author: riverlab


Riverlab is supporting the ongoing effort to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, building on research conducted by Mark Tompkins and Matt Kondolf over a decade ago. An agreement among Tribes, NGOs, local stakeholders, the states of California and Oregon, and importantly, the owner of the dams, has paved the way for removing the dams starting in 2023, as reflected in this recent CBS News report. It will be the largest dam removal in the country and promises to benefit salmon runs in the river, which have been reduced by impacts of the dams and land use in the basin.


12 May 2021, 10am-1245pm PST (online)

The symposium is free and open to the public, but preregistration is required to obtain a link.

This symposium begins with a keynote talk on ‘Restoring ecological processes in an urban river: the Isar in Munich’, presented by Dr Aude Zingraff-Hamed (Technical University of Munich). The Isar is an excellent example of how an important urban river can be restored to yield ecological and social benefits, an example from which we can learn in approaching our urban rivers. Next are graduate student research projects on riparian vegetation along Tassajara Creek, Dublin, 20 years post-restoration; tracing the Alhambra Wash in Los Angeles; the restored Yitong River waterfront in Changchun, China; managing encampments in waterways around the San Francisco Bay; and flood risk management and the ‘levee effect’ in West Sacramento, California. An expert panel including Prof Joe McBride (UC Berkeley) and Amanda Booth (City of San Pablo) reflects on themes raised in the student research projects.

Naturally deposited gravel bars in the Isar River provide habitat for a range of species, but especially for urban residents. (Photo by Matt Kondolf, July 2013)


10AM Keynote

Restoring ecological processes in an urban river: the Isar in Munich, by Dr Aude Zingraff-Hamed, Technical University of Munich

10:45AM Graduate Student Research Projects

a. Twenty Years Later: Long-term monitoring of restored floodplain vegetation, Tassajara Creek, California, by Skyler Lewis

b. Tracing the Alhambra Wash: Past, Present, and Future, by Dana Tinio


c. Post-Occupancy Evaluation of the restored Yitong River waterfront in Changchun, by Zhufeng Pan

d. Managing Encampments in Waterways Around the San Francisco Bay Region: Policy and Practice, by Isabelle Doerschlag

e. Flood Risk Management and the Levee Effect in West Sacramento, California, by Corey Ng

12:15PM Panel Discussion

Amanda Booth, Joe McBride

Keynote and Panelist Biographies

Dr. Aude Zingraff-Hamed is research associate and lecturer at the Technical University of Munich, Chair for Strategic Landscape Planning and Management. Her research concerns river restoration, urban studies, nature-based solutions, hydro-meteorological risk, climate change, and water governance. She works currently on the PHUSICOS H2020 project  As a visiting scholar with Riverlab, she is exploring opportunities and constraints to implementing socio-ecological river restoration in highly urban contexts.

Joe R. McBride is Professor Emeritus of Ecology in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley.  His research has been focused on forest ecology with emphasis on riparian woodlands in California and the ecology of streams in urban areas. His book The World’s Urban Forests: History, Composition, Design, Function and Management is a reference in the field.

Amanda Booth is the Senior Environmental Program Analyst for the City of San Pablo. Ms. Booth has over 10 years of experience in developing and delivering various environmental programs, including managing the stormwater and sustainability programs for the City of San Pablo.


Restoring ecological processes in an urban river: the Isar in Munich
Dr Aude Zingraff-Hamed, Technical University of Munich

The transboundary Isar River flows from the Bavarian Alps into one of the last free-flowing sections of the Danube. The Isar was fundamental to the establishment of Munich and other cities located on its banks, and underwent morphological changes from human activity since the 18 th century, but especially with the boom in hydro-electrical production after the First World War. Starting in the late 20 th century, years of collaborative planning, pressure from civil society, changes in government institutions, and strong partnerships among non-government organizations, the river management approach changed from a traditional grey infrastructure-based approach to nature-based practices. The restoration of the Isar in Munich demonstrates that socio-ecological restorations are possible even in metropolitan city centers. Ultimately, the Isar River is an example of how civil society’s perception of ecosystem losses can lead to positive changes in water governance.

Student Presentations and Publications – 16th Annual River Restoration Symposium

A Social Analysis of the San Marcos River
Lilly Byrd

Carbon sequestration potential on a reconnected floodplain: insights from the Cosumnes River, California
Britne Clifton

Fire and Water: Establishing a Geomorphic Baseline for a Perennial Stream in the Walbridge Fire Footprint
Morgan Cooney, Adrienne Dodd, and Molly Oshun

A Restoration on Yongding River, Beijing
Yifan Feng

Salinas River: Historical context, maintenance, and biodiversity
MaFe Gonzalez

The impact of water level fluctuation on vegetation: An assessment of Zhenjiang Section of Yangtze River
Trista Hu

Riparian vegetated buffer in Chinese urban wetlands: a case study of Xixi wetland, Hangzhou
Karen Jin and Jingyi Chen

Restoring San Leandro/Lisjan Creek: Re-establishing Sacred Relationships as Pathways toward Decolonization
Janet Le

The Urban Gauntlet for Steelhead Trout: A Reconnaissance Study of Habitat in Upper Bollinger and Little Pine Creeks, Contra Costa County
Ali Parmer, Derek Morimoto, and Rebecca Kaliff

Understanding the water, understanding the canyon: establishing a baseline study of the Redwood Canyon reach of Cerrito Creek in Blake Garden
Camille Thoma and Dulce Rivas

The Social Evaluation of the Interval River of Shanghai Houtan Wetland Park
Peixuan Wu, Yuetian Wang, and Zhehang Li


Tonle Sap Lake is unique in its ecological and cultural importance. In the rainy season, water flows upstream from the Mekong River to swell the lake to 4 times its dry-season extent, creating extensive shallow water habitat for fish. When the lake drains back to the Mekong through the Tonle Sap River, it creates one of the greatest fishing grounds of the world, providing protein to millions of people. Research by former Riverlab/Fulbright visiting scholar Chantha Oeurng and his student Ty Sok demonstrates evolving flow and sediment relations between the lake and the Mekong River. The just-published paper,  Assessment of Suspended Sediment Load Variability in the Tonle Sap and Lower Mekong Rivers, Cambodia, is available for free download until late May from Catena here.


Two Riverlab researchers (Rafael Schmitt and Matt Kondolf) and two Italian colleagues (Simone Bizzi and Andrea Castelletti) have been awarded the 2021 Aspen Institute Italia Award for their joint research on “Improved trade-offs of hydropower and sand connectivity by strategic dam planning in the Mekong” [1].  The scientists are working on this ongoing effort to reduce impacts of the global clean energy transition on rivers and livelihoods.

Building future green economy poses great economic and technical challenge for societies, in part because of the often-overlooked externalities of technology and infrastructure on people and the environment. In their research, the scientists used the example of hydropower development to demonstrate need and opportunity to resolve such conflicts through strategic spatial planning. Hydropower is a well-proven and cost-effective way to generate renewable energy. At the same time, dams can have catastrophic impacts on people’s livelihoods and the fundamental processes that underpin healthy rivers. Thus, there is great concern about the environmental impacts of future dams, mostly planned to energize socio-economic development in the global south.

Photo credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom

The winning research demonstrated that strategic placement of dams, considering for the spatial heterogeneity of natural processes in rivers and the cumulative impacts of multiple dams, can greatly reduce dam impacts without compromising on energy generation and energy costs. That finding was derived by combining a novel computer model for evaluating large scale impacts of dams on rivers with state-of-the art tools for decision analysis. The study was based on the example of the Mekong River in South East Asia, where a massive hydropower development occurred in the recent past, and more development is foreseen in the near future. Results show that existing dams, exploiting around 50 % of the basin’s hydropower potential, have major impacts on the biophysical functioning of the studied rivers. The key finding of the study is that the same amount of hydropower could have been generated with much smaller impacts if dam sites would have been selected strategically such as to reduce their cumulative impacts.

While the results were derived for the Mekong River, the findings have broad implications for renewable water and energy systems world-wide. Globally, increasing conflicts between infrastructure and natural systems are inevitable: Other forms of renewable energy create environmental impacts, more water infrastructure will be required to meet domestic and agricultural water demands, and industrialized countries must soon review their aging infrastructure portfolios. In this context, strategic decision making, which balances economic and ecosystem needs is crucial for an ecologic transition to water and energy systems with minimal impacts on nature and maximal benefits for society.  

[1]  The reasearch has been published by Nature Sustainability | VOL 1 | FEBRUARY 2018 | 96–104 |

Postdoc position: Assessing ecosystem benefits for hydropower under land use and climate change

The successful candidate will explore impacts of climate and landuse change on a hydropower dam in Peru (recently acquired by a major a Chinese State-owned Enterprise), and evaluate opportunities for catchment management to reduce those impacts. The project is with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the position will be shared between Stanford and Beijing. The candidate should be fluent in Chinese and have a background in hydrology or landuse planning. The announcement is here.


Poet Lewis Macadams is well-known to river afficionados thanks to his visionary work to respect and restore the Los Angeles River. Founder of the NGO Friends of the Los Angeles River, MacAdams was instrumental in putting the river ‘on the map’ for the public, and ‘on the radar’ of the political life of Los Angeles, leading to the City’s River Master Plan in 1991 and the River Revitalization Master Plan in 2007. MacAdams passed away last April at 75, but the news of his loss was largely eclipsed at the time by the chaos created by the COVID pandemic and economic dislocation. An essay Shall We Gather at the River? published by the Poetry Foundation provides a fascinating biography of MacAdams, tracing his earlier years in New York, Buffalo, and Bolinas, before moving to Los Angeles four decades ago and adopting the river. MacAdams’ book-length poem, The River, is out of print but is worth seeking out from the library until it is reissued.

MacAdams was a featured speaker at (and a key inspiration for) the conference The Future of the Concrete Channel convened by the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning in November 2013, organized by Matt Kondolf and Raymond Wong. The conference program featured these topics and speakers:

Policy background Scott Nicholson USACE HQ, Rethinking flood control 23 years later Phil Williams PWA-ESA, Overview of concrete channels around the SF Bay Raymond Wong, UCB, A historical perspective Bill Kier, Kier Associates, Contra Costa County Mike Carlson CCCFC, Santa Clara County Jim Fiedler, SCVWD, Menomonee River David Fowler, Milwaukee MSD, Resonance in contemporary culture Chip Sullivan, UCB, David Fletcher, California College of the Arts, A 50-year plan for Contra Costa Streams Mitch Avalon, CCCFC, The Ala Wai Canal project feasibility study Scott Nicholson, Replacing aging concrete channels David Fowler, MMSD, Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project Carol Armstrong, City of Los Angeles, Evolving concepts of restoration Lewis MacAdams, FOLAR, Overcoming barriers to reinventing concrete channels Jeff Haltiner, UCB & ESA-PWA, Kathy Schaefer, FEMA, Louise Mozingo, UC Berkeley, Mitch Avalon, CCCFC; Ralph Johnson, Alameda County.


Deliberate high-flow releases are increasingly made from dams to mimic effects of floods and interact with the channel to produce biophysical changes in channel characteristics, such as removing fine sediment from downstream aquatic habitats. These are a special case of environmental flows intended to mitigate geomorphic/ecological effects of dams, commonly termed flushing flows. In a new publication, Remi Loire and colleagues propose new terms for these high flow releases: morphogenic releases, or ecomorphogenic releases for flows intended specifically to improve aquatic and riparian habitats. The paper, published in Earth Science Reviews, reviews objectives of these flows, experiences gained from their implementation, and potential conflicts with environmental, socio-economic, and dam-operational issues. The paper is available until 21 February 2021 for free download here.

Loire, R, H Piégay, J-R Malavoi, GM Kondolf, and LA Bêche. From flushing flows to eco-geomorphic flow releases: evolving terminology, practice, and integration into regulated river management. Earth Science Reviews 213: 103475


Many cities worldwide now have available waterfront land, often in the city center, thanks to de-industrialization and concentration of navigation elsewhere. As cities seek to take advantage of this remarkable real estate, they may be prone to some classic ‘traps’ such as copying projects successful in another city but which fail in the new location due to differences in scale, topography, urban form, etc. In this recent publication, Pedro Pinto and Matt Kondolf present an idiosyncratic list of ‘wrongs’ that are evident in many such projects. The paper is freely available, via open access here.

Pinto, JP, and GM Kondolf. 2020. The fit of urban waterfront interventions: matters of size, money and function. Sustainability 12: 4079; doi:10.3390/su12104079

Figure 1. Viana do Castelo, Portugal: three recently built, out-of-scale public buildings cut off the old town from the Lima riverbanks. (source Google)

River restoration projects in North America that involve reconfiguration of stream channels are dominated by symmetrical, single-thread meandering channels.  Although the meander dimensions are commonly justified by relations between channel width and meander wavelength, the universal preference for single-thread meandering channels in restoration projects is rarely questioned.  The aesthetic appeal of s-shaped curves in art and landscape design may help explain the prevalence of this form in river restoration projects. Riverlab alumna Kristen Wilson (Nature Conservancy) gave 300 freshwater scientists attending her keynote talk 5 minutes to draw a restored stream.  She compiled the results to see what mental images these scientists had for restored channels. Most depicted single-thread meanders for their restored channel, although there were interesting variants.  See Kristen’s just-published paper here.


Figure 1. The ideal meander with its repeating, regular, and symmetrical bends as drawn by select respondents, isolated to the channel pattern, and overlaid to emphasize the similarity in the form. A.—One wavelength. B.—1.5 wavelength. C.—Two or more wavelengths drawings.