Hydraulic Geometry: A Geomorphic Design Tool for Tidal Marsh Channel Evolution in Wetland Restoration Projects


Address correspondence to P. B. Williams, sfo@pwa-ltd.com.


Empirical hydraulic geometry relationships for tidal marsh channels are a practical geomorphically based design tool that can assist in the planning of tidal wetland restoration projects. This study provides hydraulic geometry relationships for predicting the depth, width, and cross-sectional area of mature tidal channels as functions of contributing marsh area or tidal prism. The relationships are based on data from San Francisco Bay coastal salt marshes ranging in size from 2 to 5,700 ha. These hydraulic geometry relationships refine and expand on earlier relationships. Relationships for mature marshes can be used to predict the direction and rate of evolution of a channel in an immature or perturbed marsh system. Channel evolution data for three youthful tidal channels, ages 4 to 13 years, suggest that the channels are converging on their predicted equilibrium morphology. Two channels are eroding in response to significant increases in upstream tidal prism. They have enlarged first by deepening, in one case after 13 years to beyond the predicted equilibrium depth, and then widening through slumping of the channel banks. The third channel, a new one forming in a depositional mudflat, is converging on its equilibrium morphology after 13 years but will likely take several decades to equilibrate.