Changes on Streambanks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains: Perspectives from a Dry and a Wet Year



We summarize the findings of a two-year study of vegetation and streambank erosion on incised streams. We conducted the first year of the research during the sixth year of a drought. During the second year of study, precipitation totals ranged from normal to 200% of normal. The focus of the study was to determine if vegetation established on a bank affects the erosion of or deposition on that bank. During the drought year, most banks showed relatively little change. During the high water year, 27% of all vegetated and 32% of all bare lower banks retreated more than 250 mm. This similarity between vegetated and unvegetated banks indicates that, on the streams studied, vegetation had little effect on bank erosion. Bank retreat was not related to near-bank velocities or to bank steepness. It is possible that herbaceous vegetation showed no effect on the incised streams because the streams were too far from a new dynamic equilibrium. The energy of the hydraulic system may have been greater than the vegetation could withstand.