How can subsurface modifications to hydraulic conductivity be designed as stream restoration structures? Analysis of Vaux's conceptual models to enhance hyporheic exchange



[1] Despite the growing interest in hyporheic exchange and the associated stream ecosystem processes, few studies consider restoration of hyporheic exchange as a design goal. Here we study the design of three types of subsurface structures for hyporheic restoration after conceptual designs published over 40 years ago. Vaux's designs involve modifying the subsurface with low or high hydraulic conductivity material placed at the streambed or adjacent to a confining layer below the stream. In this preliminary analysis of subsurface structure design we use two-dimensional groundwater flow modeling of structures to simulate structure performance in plane bed streams for ranges of structure geometric design and hydraulic conductivities. Structure performance is evaluated on the basis of total streambed flux, physical extent of hyporheic flow paths created, and residence time distributions along flow paths modified by the structures. High hydraulic conductivity structures bend flow paths toward and through the structures themselves; performance is controlled by the structure hydraulic conductivity. Results show low hydraulic conductivity structure performance is insensitive to the structure material; hyporheic exchange is created by deflecting flow paths away from the structure itself. Time scales of simulated exchange are great enough to promote nitrification, denitrification, respiration, and thermal buffering in the subsurface, though these processes will also be controlled by site-specific chemical and biological factors. General design recommendations for specific restoration objectives are presented. Results of this study can be extrapolated to further understand the interaction of natural subsurface heterogeneities (e.g., clay and gravel deposits and bedrock knickpoints) and flow fields in creating hyporheic flow paths.