Case study:Aesthetic vs. functional restoration of urban and peri-urban rivers: the Manzanares River in Madrid

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Location: 40° 25' 0", -3° 42' 14"
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Project overview

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Status In progress
Project web site
Themes Environmental flows and water resources, Habitat and biodiversity, Hydromorphology, Land use management - forestry, Social benefits, Urban
Country Spain
Main contact forename Fernando
Main contact surname Magdaleno
Main contact user ID
Contact organisation Centre for Studies and Experimentation on Public Works (CEDEX)
Contact organisation web site castellano/
Partner organisations
Parent multi-site project
This is a parent project
encompassing the following
The Manzanares River in the early 21th century, after the motorways burial and the construction of a huge river park, but still with the weirs closed along the rivercourse (Photo source: Madrid City Council and CEDEX).

Project summary

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Peri-urban reach

• Improvement of environmental flow regime: the environmental flow regime should be optimized to allow for a better river dynamics. The discharge of episodic controlled floods could be capable of regenerating the riverbed and improving the solid transport (Magdaleno, 2017). The characteristics of these floods have been designed and proposed to the water authorities.

• Rescue and transfer of native ichthyofauna such as barbel (Luciobarbus bocagei), Iberian nase (Pseudochondrostoma polylepis) and Iberian gudgeon (Gobio lozanoi).

• Increased complexity and hydraulic diversity by using materials of coarse granulometry at certain sections, favoring the generation of optimal erosion and sedimentation patterns.

• Forestry works and removal of exotic vegetation: These works include the cutting of dry or dying vegetation, or the pruning of specimens that require an improvement in their structure or that have risks for the visitors. Also ailanthus –Ailanthus altissima-, box elder –Acer negundo- and false acacias –Robinia pseudoacacia- will be removed.

• Restoration of riparian vegetation on the river banks, the margins, the floodplain and the distal areas.

• Removal of excessive patches of helophytic species in the channel. Reed species -Phragmites australis- and narrowleaf cattail –Typha angustifolia- will be removed.

• Removal of obsolete transversal works and artificial barriers: the remains of an old gauging station, and some sedimentary heaps (with a total volume of 10,000 m3) accumulated in the channel which are creating large backwaters, and which have been colonized by pioneer vegetation will be removed.

• Construction of fish ramp.

• Removal of landfills in the riparian areas to recover a certain degree of naturalness in the transversal profiles of the channel, which are now very much incised. the newly created surfaces will be re-vegetated, using plant propagules from the area.

• Improvement of trails. Also different signs and educational materials will also be installed for visitors.

Urban reach

The progressive opening of the regulatory gates of the Manzanares River. The first effect of this opening was the reduction of the artificial depth of the dammed river (close to or greater than 2 m), the recovery, after decades of complete immobility, of sediment transport and the reappearance of a wide number of species of fauna and flora associated with the recently created fluvial forms. The creation of sandy islands and bars along the urban reach, and their rapid colonization by natural vegetation, has accelerated the change of the fluvial landscape. The City Council plans, at this moment, the creation of bioengineered slopes in the banks formerly covered by rip-raps, the planting of riparian species in the upper part of these slopes, and some other landscaping and environmental design project (such as the creation of a fish pass in one of the regulatory gates, the reintroduction of native ichthyofauna, or the creation of a fish breeding centre, among others).

Monitoring surveys and results

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1. The restoration projects under execution or recently implemented in the urban and peri-urban reaches of the Manzanares River in Madrid have shown the high capacity of historically degraded rivers to enjoy a fast recovery of many important functions and services, following a correctly designed hydromorphological and ecological restoration or rehabilitation.

2. Even the more constrained urban reaches may sustain interesting aquatic and riparian habitats, and attract many different floral and faunal species. This is the case of the urban downtown reach of the river, which has bloomed in terms of bird and fish communities immediately after the restoration of some basic hydrogeomorphic patterns. In this case, the maintenance of a managerial approach strictly based on certain aesthetic values would have involved keeping the river in a very poor condition, with no natural processes attached and a total lack of relevant biotic communities.

3. Restoration of a minimum functionality of urban reaches requires restoring, as far as possible, the dynamics of the peri-urban reaches both upstream and downstream. The urban reach must not be an isolated water shackle, unable to constitute part of a river corridor which offers a large diversity of functions and services to the city and to its citizens.

4. The legal, scientific, technical and social advances recently developed in the approach to rivers must be reflected in their management. Strictly engineered solutions are frequently not cost-efficient, since they use to leave aside a wide number of the rivers´ functions and services. Selfmaintenance or self-restoration of rivers is also not an appropriate solution in most cases, since the pressures and constraints around rivers require active managerial approaches. Green infrastructures and natural water retention measures, as presently considered in the literature and in the legal context, may guide the efforts to restore urban and peri-urban rivers, because they involve multi-functional solutions, and can create the necessary links between the many different laws and policies which nowadays rule urban and peri-urban rivers.

Lessons learnt

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Image gallery

The Manzanares River near the historical Toledo Bridge by the early 20th century, showing the characteristic patterns of the near-natural multi-thread river channel (Photo source: Madrid City Council and CEDEX).
The Manzanares River in the 80s after the canalization of the river and the construction of motorways along its banks (Photo source: Madrid City Council and CEDEX).
The Manzanares River after the full opening of the weirs and the allowance of a seminatural dynamics inside the limited space of the river (Photo source: Madrid City Council and CEDEX).
Occupation of the former river left floodplain, which has contributed to the present narrow structure of the river system (Photo source: Madrid City Council and CEDEX).
A weir which creates an artificial backwater, where a fish ramp will be created (Photo source: Madrid City Council and CEDEX).
Artificial backwater which has motivated the death of the riparian stands; the dead trees have already been eliminated and the backwater will soon be reduced by allowing a better sediment transport (Photo source: Madrid City Council and CEDEX).
Massive public use along the reach, but disconnected from many river values; the paths will be improved and reconnected with the river banks, and cycle and pedestrian differentiated paths will be created (Photo source: Madrid City Council and CEDEX).
Schematic diagram of the main flow and eco-geomorphic alterations which the Manzanares River peri-urban reach suffers today, their effects along the river, and the restoration measures under development (Source: J.A. Fernández Yuste, C. Martínez Santa-María, F. Magdaleno, pers. comm., 2015).

Catchment and subcatchment


WFD water body codes
WFD (national) typology
WFD water body name
Pre-project morphology
Reference morphology
Desired post project morphology
Heavily modified water body
National/international site designation
Local/regional site designations
Protected species present
Invasive species present
Species of interest
Dominant hydrology
Dominant substrate
River corridor land use
Average bankfull channel width category
Average bankfull channel width (m)
Average bankfull channel depth category
Average bankfull channel depth (m)
Mean discharge category
Mean annual discharge (m3/s)
Average channel gradient category
Average channel gradient
Average unit stream power (W/m2)

Project background

Reach length directly affected (m)
Project started 2017/01/01
Works started
Works completed
Project completed
Total cost category 1000 - 5000 k€
Total cost (k€) 2000
2,000 k€
2,000,000 €
Benefit to cost ratio
Funding sources

Cost for project phases

Phase cost category cost exact (k€) Lead organisation Contact forename Contact surname
Investigation and design
Stakeholder engagement and communication
Works and works supervision
Post-project management and maintenance

Reasons for river restoration

Mitigation of a pressure Invasive species, Riparian development, Urbanisation
Hydromorphology Channel pattern/planform, Width & depth variation, Continuity for organisms, Quantity & dynamics of flow
Biology Fish: Abundance, Fish: Species composition
Other reasons for the project


Structural measures
Bank/bed modifications Creation of ramp
Floodplain / River corridor Reforestation and restoration of watercourses, Develop riparian forest, Riparian planting
Planform / Channel pattern
Non-structural measures
Management interventions
Social measures (incl. engagement) Awareness raising by a sign


Hydromorphological quality elements

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Biological quality elements

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Physico-chemical quality elements

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Any other monitoring, e.g. social, economic

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Monitoring documents

Additional documents and videos

Additional links and references

Link Description Aesthetic vs functional restoration of urban and peri-urban rivers the Manzanares River in Madrid Spain All information on this page is copied from this article written by Fernando Magdaleno.

Supplementary Information

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Baschak, L.A. & Brown, R.D. 1995. An ecological framework for the planning, design and management of urban river greenways. Landscape and urban planning, 33(1), 211-225.

Chin, A. 2006. Urban transformation of river landscapes in a global context. Geomorphology, 79(3), 460-487.

European Commission (EC). 2014. Links between the Floods Directive (FD 2007/60/EC) and Water Framework Directive (WFD 2000/60/ EC). Resource Document. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Eden, S. & Tunstall, S. 2006. Ecological versus social restoration? How urban river restoration challenges but also fails to challenge the science–policy nexus in the United Kingdom. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 24(5), 661-680.

European Environment Agency (EEA). 2016. Rivers and lakes in European cities - Past and future challenges. EEA Report No 26/2016. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Everard, M., & Moggridge, H.L. 2012. Rediscovering the value of urban rivers. Urban Ecosystems, 15(2), 293-314.

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Gurnell, A., Lee, M., & Souch, C. 2007. Urban rivers: hydrology, geomorphology, ecology and opportunities for change. Geography compass, 1(5), 1118-1137.

Magdaleno, F. 2017. Experimental floods: A new era for Spanish and Mediterranean rivers? Environmental Science & Policy, 75, 10-18.

Magdaleno, F., Donadio, C., & Kondolf, G.M. 2017. 30-year response to damming of a Mediterranean river in California, USA. Physical Geography, 1-19.

Ministerio de Agricultura y Pesca, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente (MAPAMA). 2015. Estudios previos del proyecto de restauración fluvial del río Manzanares en el entorno del Real Sitio de El Pardo. Available in: (Last accessed, October 13th, 2017).

Martín-Vide, J.P. 2001. Restoration of an urban river in Barcelona, Spain. Environmental engineering and policy, 2(3), 113-119.

May, R. 2006. “Connectivity” in urban rivers: Conflict and convergence between ecology and design. Technology in Society, 28(4), 477-488.

Paul, M.J., & Meyer, J.L. 2001. Streams in the urban landscape. Annual review of Ecology and Systematics, 32(1), 333-365.

Petts, J. 2006. Managing public engagement to optimize learning: Reflections from urban river restoration. Human Ecology Review, 172-181.

Petts, J. 2007. Learning about learning: lessons from public engagement and deliberation on urban river restoration. The Geographical Journal, 173(4), 300-311.

Strosser, P., Delacámara, G., Hanus, A., Williams, H., & Jaritt, N. 2015. A guide to support the selection, design and implementation of Natural Water Retention Measures in Europe - Capturing the multiple benefits of nature-based solutions. European Commission. Final version, April 2015.

Valcárcel, Y., Alonso, S. G., Rodríguez-Gil, J. L., Maroto, R. R., Gil, A., & Catalá, M. 2011. Analysis of the presence of cardiovascular and analgesic/anti-inflammatory/antipyretic pharmaceuticals in river-and drinking-water of the Madrid Region in Spain. Chemosphere, 82(7), 1062-1071.

Walsh, C.J., Roy, A.H., Feminella, J.W., Cottingham, P.D., Groffman, P.M., & Morgan II, R.P. 2005. The urban stream syndrome: current knowledge and the search for a cure. Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 24(3), 706-723.

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