Assessing the impact of riparian processes on streambank stability


  • This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the U.S.A.


The series of biennial United States (US) National Water Quality Inventory surveys shows no reduction in the percentage of degraded miles of streams since the early 1990s despite an exponential increase in river restoration projects to improve water quality, enhance in-stream habitat and manage the riparian zone. This may suggest that many river restoration projects fail to achieve their objectives. This is partly due to a lack of understanding of the dynamics of the degraded riverine system and its interaction with the riparian zone. These projects could, therefore, benefit from using proven models of stream and riparian processes to guide restoration design and to evaluate indicators of ecological integrity. The US Department of Agriculture has developed two such models: the channel evolution computer model CONCEPTS and the riparian ecosystem model REMM. These models have been integrated to evaluate the impact of edge-of-field and riparian conservation measures on stream morphology and water quality. Vegetative riparian conservation measures are commonly used to stabilize failing streambanks. The shear strength of bank soils is greatly affected by the degree of saturation of the soils and root reinforcement provided by riparian vegetation. The integrated model was used to study the effectiveness of woody and herbaceous riparian buffers in controlling streambank erosion of an incised stream in northern Mississippi. Comparison of model results with observations showed that pore-water pressures are accurately predicted in the upper part of the streambank, away from the groundwater table. Simulated pore-water pressures deviate from those observed lower in the streambank near the phreatic surface. These discrepancies are mainly caused by differences in the simulated location of the phreatic surface and simulated evapotranspiration in case of the woody buffer. The modelling exercise further showed that a coarse rooting system, e.g. as provided by trees, significantly reduced bank erosion rates for this deeply incised stream. Published in 2009 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.