Hydromorphological implications of local tributary widening for river rehabilitation


Corresponding author: M. Leite Ribeiro, Laboratory of Hydraulic Constructions, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Station 18, XX Lausanne, Switzerland. (mleiteribeiro@stucky.ch)


[1] The hydromorphological implications of the local widening of a tributary where it enters a confluence were investigated in a laboratory setting that is representative of the 20 major confluences on the channelized Upper Rhone River. Although local tributary widening reduces the confluence angle, it amplifies the hydromorphosedimentary processes in the confluence hydrodynamic zone (CHZ), because local widening reduces the effective flow area, causing increased tributary velocities and momentum flux. The reduction in effective flow area is caused by an increase in bed elevation and by lateral constriction of the flow induced by flow stagnation at the upstream corner of the confluence. The increased tributary velocities amplify the two-layer flow structure in the CHZ. Flow originating from the tributary is confined to the upper part of the water column and is more markedly directed outward than flow in the lower part of the water column originating from the main channel. A shear layer characterized by increased turbulence activity develops at the interface between the two flow layers. The increased tributary velocities enhance bed discordance, the penetration of the tributary into the CHZ and the channel bed gradients in the postconfluence channel. The results indicate that local tributary widening can enhance heterogeneity in sediment substrate, flow velocities and flow depths. Widening may therefore enhance local habitat and improve the connectivity of the tributary to the main river network. This may, in turn, provide favorable conditions for the improvement and reestablishment of ecological river functions, without having adverse impact on flood safety.