Analysis of naturalization alternatives for the recovery of moist-soil plants in the floodplain of the Illinois River

  • C. Ahn
  • D. M. Johnston
  • R. E. Sparks
  • D. C. White
Part of the Developments in Hydrobiology book series (DIHY, volume 187)


The hydrologic regime of the Illinois River has been substantially altered by floodplain levees, navigation dams, and water diversion. Unnaturally frequent and untimely water level fluctuations, large and small, have decreased the productivity of many floodplain vegetation communities that provide important ecological services, including the moist-soil plant community. We simulated three scenarios, including two that were expected to benefit moist-soil plants: (1) existing conditions, with levees and navigation dams closed during the summer growing season; (2) levees opened to reconnect the river and its floodplain during the growing season; and (3) both the downstream navigation dam and the levees opened during the growing season. A 1-dimensional hydraulic model generated daily hydrographs of the river at three positions in the 135 km study reach: (1) near the downstream dam, (2) in the middle of the reach, and (3) near the upstream dam. These hydrographs then were used to run a model that predicts the growth of moist-soil plants at a range of floodplain elevations. As expected, the model predicted that plants would grow over a larger area with levees open during the growing season than under the existing conditions, but the outcomes showed a strong location dependency. Moist-soil plant production would increase in the upper and mid-reach locations, but there would be no change near the downstream dam despite opening the levees. Modelling revealed that the existing operation of the navigation dam permanently floods most of the floodplain zone where moist soil plants might grow for at least 15 km upstream of the dam. Trees currently grow all the way to the low water line and are likely to exclude moist soil plants from any restored portion of the floodplain. Sites for reconnecting the river with its floodplain should be carefully chosen to maximize the chances of recovering the important moist-soil plant community in this regulated river.

Key words

floodplain restoration floodplain-river naturalization moist-soil plants levee removal navigation dam ecohydrology 


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Copyright information

© Springer2006 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Ahn
    • 1
  • D. M. Johnston
    • 2
  • R. E. Sparks
    • 3
  • D. C. White
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science and PolicyGeorge Mason UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Landscape ArchitectureUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUSA
  3. 3.National Great Rivers Research and Education CenterUSA
  4. 4.Illinois Water Resources CenterUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUSA

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