The Disconnect Between Restoration Goals and Practices: A Case Study of Watershed Restoration in the Russian River Basin, CA

Restoration Ecology

Over the past two decades, watershed restoration has dramatically increased internationally. California has been atthe forefront, allocating billions of dollars to restoration activities through legislation and voter-approved bonds. Yet, the implications of restoration remain ambiguous because there has been little examination of restoration accomplishments and almost no analysis of the political context of restoration. This article addresses these gaps, utilizing a case study of the Russian River basin in Northern California. We identify trends that shed light on both the ecological and the political implications of restoration at a basin scale by examining a database of 787 restoration projects implemented in the Russian River basin since the early 1980s. Although a total of over $47 million has been spent on restoration in the basin, dominant forms of restoration are limited in scope to small-scale projects that focus on technical solutions to site-specific problems. The majority of restoration efforts are devoted to road repair,riparian stabilization, and in-stream structures, accounting for 62% of all projects. These types of projects do not address the broader social drivers of watershed change such as land and water uses. We suggest that restoration can become more effective by addressing the entire watershed as a combination of social and ecological forces that interact to produce watershed conditions. 


Christian-Smith, Julie and Adina M. Merenlender