Use of Shallow Basins to Restore Cutover Peatlands: Hydrology



Basins 20-, 10-, and 4-m wide were excavated 15 to 20 cm into cutover peat fields near Lac Saint Jean, Québec, Canada to facilitate the establishment of Sphagnum mosses. Sphagnum diaspores (fragments) and straw mulch were spread over the excavated surfaces, a control peat field, and a mulch-protected site without basins. Mean water tables in the 20-, 10-, and 4-m wide basins and the mulch-protected site were 27.2, 8.3, 11.4, and 9.7 cm higher, respectively, than in the control peat field in May to August 1996. Similar improvements were observed in 1997 (a drier summer). The higher water table was due to lowering of the peat surface with respect to the local water table, retention of meltwater and stormwater by the peripheral ridges formed during excavation, retention of water during drier periods by the groundwater mound beneath the ridges, and mulch. Soil moisture was always higher in the experimental basins than in the control peat field or in the mulch-protected site, demonstrating the superior soil wetness characteristic of sites with basins and straw mulch. Water tension data signaled the absence of the capillary fringe (i.e., capillary drainage) near the surface for some finite period, thus possibly limiting water for best Sphagnum growth. At the experimental basins and mulch-protected site, 100% of these periods lasted four or fewer days. In the control peat field, 20% of the periods when capillary drainage had occurred lasted more than four days, with one period of 17 days. The mulch protection alone provided considerable improvement in hydrological conditions compared with the control peat field, but the additional water retained in the experimental basins protected against Sphagnum desiccation and loss during more extreme dry periods.