In this paper we propose a new framework to support river management and restoration in a more effective way, both conceptually and operationally, in view of an increasingly challenging future. ‘Development’ almost inevitably leads to modifications of rivers. These modifications are governed (at best) by planning exercises which typically encompass multiple and generally conflicting objectives (whether explicitly or implicitly). To address the inherent conflictual nature of a decision problem, it is key to measure the degree to which the objectives are (expected to be) met. This requires that suitable evaluation indices are established and assessed. To this purpose, we point out the important role of the Value Function technique inherited from Multicriteria Analysis. One of these objectives is the “Natural value N” of the river. We notice that a lot of ambiguity exists regarding its definition. To clarify this point, we develop a reasoning that makes it possible to structure and assess it in a conceptually sounder way, while clarifying the role of the two leading concepts: the Reference Conditions
and the Leitbild
. With regard to the relevant decisions involved, the delineation of the fluvial space, together with the improvement of the water quality and hydrological regime, represent the key issues that a decision making process should address, particularly thinking of the expected consequences of climate change. We propose henceforth a pragmatic, structured, adaptive planning framework which harmonizes all such concepts. We believe that this proposal may provide a useful contribution to improve and optimize river management and restoration.
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