Sediment targets for informing river catchment management: international experience and prospects

A L Collins, P S Naden, D A Sear, J I Jones, Ian D L Foster, K Morrow

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Sediment plays a pivotal role in determining the physical, chemical and biological integrity of aquatic ecosystems. A range of factors influences the impacts of sediment pressures on aquatic biota, including concentration, duration of exposure, composition and particle size. In recognition of the need to assess environmental status for sediment and mitigate excessive sediment pressures on aquatic habitats, both water column and river substrate metrics have been proposed as river sediment targets. Water column metrics include light penetration, turbidity, sediment concentration summary statistics and sediment regimes. Substrate metrics include embeddedness, the fredle index and riffle stability. Identification of meaningful numeric targets along these lines has, however, been undermined by various issues including the uncertainty associated with toxicological dose-response profiles and the impracticalities of deploying statistically robust sampling strategies capable of supporting catchment-scale targets. Many of the thresholds reported are based on correlative relationships that fail to capture the specific mechanisms controlling sediment impacts on aquatic habitats and are stationary in nature. Temporal windows represented by the key life stages of specific species must be given greater emphasis. Given such issues and the need to support the revision of sediment targets for river catchment management, it is proposed that greater emphasis should be placed on developing generic modelling toolkits with the functionality for coupling current or future projected sediment regimes with biological response for a range of biota. Such tools should permit the identification of river catchment-specific targets within a national context, based on biological effect and incorporate sufficient flexibility for utilizing updated physical, chemical, biological and catchment attribute data. Confidence will continue to be required in compliance screening to ensure cost-effective management programmes for avoiding disproportionate investment in impacted river catchments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2112-2129
Number of pages18
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2011


  • sediment targets
  • river catchment
  • ecology
  • water policy
  • mitigation
  • compliance


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