Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 496
Title: Channel incision, evolution, and potential recovery in the Walla Walla and Tucannon River basins, northwestern USA
Author: T. J. Beechie, Michael M. Pollock, S. Baker
Publication Year: 2008
Journal: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Volume: 33
Issue: 5
Pages: 784-800
Keywords: channel incision, channel evolution, aggradation, floodplain development

We evaluated controls on locations of channel incision, variation in channel evolution pathways, and the time required to reconnect incised channels to their historical floodplains in the Walla Walla and Tucannon River basins, northwestern USA. Controls on incision locations are hierarchically nested. A first-order geological control defines locations of channels prone to incision, and a second-order control determines which of those channels are incised. Channels prone to incision are reaches with silt-dominated valley fills, which have sediment source areas dominated by loess deposits and channel slopes less than 0"1(Area)-0"45. Among channels prone to incision, channels below a second slope-area threshold (slope = 0.15(Area)-0.8) did not incise. Once incised, channels follow two different evolution models. Small, deeply incised channels follow Model I, which is characterized by the absence of a significant widening phase following incision. Widening is limited by accumulation of bank failure deposits at the base of banks, which reduces lateral channel migration. Larger channels follow Model II, in which widening is followed by development of an inset floodplain and aggradation. Contrary to patterns observed elsewhere, we found the widest incised channels upstream of narrower reaches, which reflects a downstream decrease in bed load supply. Based on literature values of floodplain aggradation rates, we estimate recovery times for incised channels (the time required to reconnect to the historical floodplain) between 60 and 275 years. Restoration actions such as allowing modest beaver recolonization can decrease recovery time by 17 to 33 per cent.

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