Nutrient retention in ecologically functional floodplains: A review

Brad A. Gordon, Olivia Dorothy, Christian F. Lenhart

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Nutrient loads in fresh and coastal waters continue to lead to harmful algal blooms across the globe. Historically, floodplains—low-lying areas adjacent to streams and rivers that become inundated during high-flow events—would have been nutrient deposition and/or removal sites within riparian corridors, but many floodplains have been developed and/or disconnected. This review synthesizes literature and data available from field studies quantifying nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) removal within floodplains across North America and Europe to determine how effective floodplain restoration is at removing nutrients. The mean removal of nitrate-N (NO3-N), the primary form of N in floodplain studies, was 200 (SD = 198) kg-N ha−1 yr−1, and of total or particulate P was 21.0 (SD = 31.4) kg-P ha−1 yr−1. Based on the literature, more effective designs of restored floodplains should include optimal hydraulic load, permanent wetlands, geomorphic diversity, and dense vegetation. Floodplain restorations along waterways with higher nutrient concentrations could lead to a more effective investment for nutrient removal. Overall, restoring and reconnecting floodplains throughout watersheds is a viable and effective means of removing nutrients while also restoring the many other benefits that floodplains provide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2762
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by the Anthony A. Lapham Fellowship and the McKnight Foundation through American Rivers.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Algal blooms
  • Floodplain restoration
  • Nitrogen
  • Nutrient retention
  • Phosphorus


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