Environmental Management

, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 862–879 | Cite as

Assessing Societal Impacts When Planning Restoration of Large Alluvial Rivers: A Case Study of the Sacramento River Project, California

  • Gregory H. Golet
  • Michael D. Roberts
  • Eric W. Larsen
  • Ryan A. Luster
  • Ron Unger
  • Gregg Werner
  • Gregory G. White


Studies have shown that ecological restoration projects are more likely to gain public support if they simultaneously increase important human services that natural resources provide to people. River restoration projects have the potential to influence many of the societal functions (e.g., flood control, water quality) that rivers provide, yet most projects fail to consider this in a comprehensive manner. Most river restoration projects also fail to take into account opportunities for revitalization of large-scale river processes, focusing instead on opportunities presented at individual parcels. In an effort to avoid these pitfalls while planning restoration of the Sacramento River, we conducted a set of coordinated studies to evaluate societal impacts of alternative restoration actions over a large geographic area. Our studies were designed to identify restoration actions that offer benefits to both society and the ecosystem and to meet the information needs of agency planning teams focusing on the area. We worked with local partners and public stakeholders to design and implement studies that assessed the effects of alternative restoration actions on flooding and erosion patterns, socioeconomics, cultural resources, and public access and recreation. We found that by explicitly and scientifically melding societal and ecosystem perspectives, it was possible to identify restoration actions that simultaneously improve both ecosystem health and the services (e.g., flood protection and recreation) that the Sacramento River and its floodplain provide to people. Further, we found that by directly engaging with local stakeholders to formulate, implement, and interpret the studies, we were able to develop a high level of trust that ultimately translated into widespread support for the project.


Floodplain Resource management planning River restoration Sacramento River Societal impacts Stakeholder 



We are grateful to the CALFED Bay-Delta Program and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for funding the studies profiled in this article. We thank the Wildlife Conservation Board, the California Department of Fish and Game, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the various stakeholder groups that worked with us to help define and implement these studies. We thank private individuals who made donations to The Nature Conservancy, as their contributions supported the writing of this manuscript. We acknowledge Sam Lawson and Dawit Zeleke for their support and skillful leadership of the Sacramento River Project. We thank Marlyce Myers for strategic advice on planning and for managing the socioeconomic study, David Jukkola and Seth Paine for making figures, Amy Hoss for assistance with outreach, and Wendie Duron, Cori Ong and Jan Karolyi for administrative assistance. This aricle was improved thanks to insightful comments from Virginia Dale, Mary Gleason, Karen Holl, Peter Kareiva, Rich Reiner, Stacey Solie, Andy Warner, and especially Bill Parris, a local stakeholder who helped us present a balanced perspective.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory H. Golet
    • 1
  • Michael D. Roberts
    • 1
  • Eric W. Larsen
    • 2
  • Ryan A. Luster
    • 1
  • Ron Unger
    • 3
  • Gregg Werner
    • 1
  • Gregory G. White
    • 4
  1. 1.The Nature Conservancy, Northern Central Valley OfficeChicoUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  3. 3.EDAWSacramentoUSA
  4. 4.Archaeological Research ProgramCalifornia State UniversityChicoUSA

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