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Keywords:

  • suspended sediment sources;
  • damaged road verges;
  • mitigation;
  • uncertainty

Abstract

Diffuse sediment pollution impairs water quality, exerts a key control on the transfer and fate of nutrients and contaminants and causes deleterious impacts on freshwater ecology. A variety of catchment sediment sources can contribute to such problems. Sediment control strategies and effective targeting of mitigation options therefore require robust quantitative information on the key sources of the sediment problem at catchment scale. Recent observations by Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers (CSFO's) in England have highlighted road verges damaged and eroded by passing vehicles, particularly large farm machinery, and livestock herd movement as visually important potential sources of local sediment problems. A study was therefore undertaken to assess the relative importance of damaged road verges as a suspended sediment source in three sub-catchments of the Hampshire Avon drainage basin, southern UK. Road verge sediment contributions were apportioned in conjunction with those from agricultural topsoils and channel banks/subsurface sources. Time-integrating isokinetic samplers were deployed to sample suspended sediment fluxes at the outlets of two control sub-catchments drained by the Rivers Chitterne and Till selected to characterize areas with a low road network density and limited visual evidence of verge damage, as well as the River Sem sub-catchment used to represent areas where road verge damage is more prevalent. The findings of a sediment source fingerprinting investigation based on a combination of intermittent sampling campaigns spanning the period 22/5/02–27/4/08 suggested that the respective overall mean relative sediment contributions from damaged road verges were 5 ± 3%, 4 ± 2% and 20 ± 2%. Relative inputs from damaged road verges for any specific sampling period in the River Sem sub-catchment were as high as 33 ± 2%. Reconstruction of historical sources in the same sub-catchment, based on the geochemical record stored in a floodplain depth profile, suggested that the significance of damaged road verges as a sediment source has increased over the past 15–20 years. The findings provide important information on damaged road verges as a primary source of suspended sediment and imply that catchment sediment control strategies and mitigation plans should consider such verges in addition to those agricultural and channel sources traditionally taken into account when attempting to reduce sediment pressures on aquatic resources. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.