Large-Scale Restoration Projects

While major investments in new water redistribution and hydropower projects are underway across the emerging economies, governments throughout North America, Europe and Australia are devoting increasing efforts into removing or heavily modifying the major water infrastructure projects of the last century. Increasing recognition of the environmental harm to fisheries and biodiversity caused by hard infrastructure has spurred growing interest in dam removal and channel reconfiguration efforts to restore historic river structures and ecological processes.

As an inevitable consequence of increased environmental degradation and anticipated future environmental change, the demand for ecosystem restoration is rapidly increasing. “Develop now, clean-up later” has been the motto of many rapid emerging economies. The clean-up phase will be expensive and will take decades to centuries in most cases. Indeed, we probably are not able to imagine the future costs of ecosystem restoration, the damage in respect to loss of ecosystem services and the need to install extremely expensive engineering measures to compensate for the impacts of the past management decisions.

One of the most ambitious projects is the restoration of the Mississippi River Delta, following hurricane Katrina. It is planned to run for 50 years and estimated to cost between USD 500 million and USD 1.5 billion per year. And it will only stop future land loss, and not lead to the full recovery of the vast amount of wetlands already gone (Giosan et al. 2014). A recent study by Batker et al. (2010) shows that the investment to sustainably restore the Mississippi River Delta would return several time more of values in respect to provided ecosystem services. Indeed, the Mississippi River Delta Ecosystems provide economically valuable services, including hurricane storm protection, water supply, climate stability, food, furs, waste treatment, wildlife habitat, recreation and other benefits. These services are valued at USD 12–47 billion per year.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan consists of over 68 civil works projects that will be implemented over a time period of 30 years. It will cost USD

8.3 billion, with the stated goals of improving water quality and reduced flooding of urban and agricultural areas. The main goal, however, is to restore the hydrology of the Everglades, including the Kissimmee River and Okeechobee Lake, in order to maintain these unique ecosystems (Sklar et al. 2005; LoSchiavo et al. 2013). The implementation plan is adaptive, benefiting from the increasing knowledge and the lessons learnt so far. A strong scientific framework allows for a clear setting of goals, an understanding of how the system works and an identification of the uncertainties and risks associated with the project (

The Four Major Rivers Restoration Project in South Korea is a major water infrastructure project that addresses the environmental challenges faced by the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsam Rivers (Cha et al. 2011). The objectives include improved water storage and flood control, enhanced water quality and ecosystem health, provision of recreational space for local residents and improved cultural values of the rivers. It can primarily be considered an engineering project, rather than a restoration project, where natural processes will be mimicked and combined with constructed measures such as the building of dams and reservoirs. This project has provoked major opposition from both scientists and environmentalists because of the primary focus on hard engineering solutions and the distortion of scientific data for political purposes (Normile 2010). At the same time, this project is indented to form the nucleus for a national management programme to restore more than 10,000 km of local streams and rivers. At the same time, it is expected to stimulate the economy and create directly and indirectly up to 340,000 new jobs. The costs for this restoration project are estimated at USD 18 billion.

Other major restoration projects include the restoration of the Iraqi's marshes, once one of the largest and most valuable wetlands worldwide and identified as the historic garden Eden (Zahra Douabul 2012), restoring the balance of the MurrayDarling basin in Australia, or the manifold restoration work carried out across Europe, North America and Japan (Bernhardt et al. 2005; Nakamura et al. 2006). The European Water Framework Directive (WFD), for example, triggers major activities in the water sector in order to achieve a good ecological status or potential for its rivers, lakes and coastal zones. Indeed, a high proportion of the European river network must be restored in order to meet the ambitious goals set by the WFD. The restoration of the Rhine River, which already started much earlier than the implementation of the WFD, is a very good example for what may be achievable if the political will and the public pressure are high enough. After the Sandoz Accident in 1986, which released about 20 tons of pesticides and insecticides into the Rhine, immense financial resources have been invested to transform the Rhine from an open sewer to a river with a highly improved water quality and ecological state. However, the Rhine Programme also emphasis the limitations of restoration because the biological communities today are dominated by non-native species and thus very different from the communities that occurred before major pollution.

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