Improving riparian restoration by getting water out-of-the-channel and into the floodplain: science to improve technique

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Greg Noe, Sara McMillan, Changwoo Ahn, Kathy Boomer, and Cliff Hupp

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Many riparian ecosystems are degraded from a long history of reductions in hydrologic connectivity, both unintentional (e.g., deposition of legacy sediment) and intentional (e.g., channelization and artificial levees). Research on how hydrologic connectivity impacts nutrient and sediment inputs and retention could aid practitioners to better design riparian ecosystem restorations, particularly for the goal of improving water quality functions. In order to assist in guiding the design of stream restoration, we report rates of inputs and internal cycling of sediment and nutrients made across multiple studies of floodplains in the eastern, southeastern, and south-central United States, representing variability in natural and restored hydrologic connectivity to surface water inundation. We measured large spatial variation in sediment and nutrient trapping among natural floodplains, explained by the rate of trapping increasing with longer duration of surface water inundation as well as by the characteristics of the upstream drainage area. Restoring hydrologic connectivity, either through building floodplain surfaces during urban stream restoration or creating notches in artificial levees, also increased sediment and nutrient trapping (but without large phosphate losses). Furthermore, greater rates of sediment and nutrient inputs to floodplains stimulated greater rates of soil nutrient cycling and denitrification. In conclusion, our measurements made among a diversity of floodplains suggest that stream restoration approaches that increase hydrologic connectivity and riparian flooding (getting water out of the channel) will generate greater water quality benefits.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program