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Keywords:

  • streambed sediment;
  • relative bed stability;
  • sediment transport;
  • environmental indicators;
  • rivers/streams;
  • nonpoint source pollution;
  • monitoring;
  • geomorphology;
  • disturbance;
  • textural fining;
  • channel morphology;
  • land use.)

Abstract:  To evaluate anthropogenic sedimentation in United States (U.S.) Pacific Northwest coastal streams, we applied an index of relative bed stability (LRBS*) to summer low flow survey data collected using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program field methods in a probability sample of 101 wadeable stream reaches. LRBS* is the log of the ratio of bed surface geometric mean particle diameter (Dgm) to critical diameter (D*cbf) at bankfull flow, based on a modified Shield’s criterion for incipient motion. We used a formulation of LRBS* that explicitly accounts for reductions in bed shear stress that result from channel form roughness due to pools and wood. LRBS* ranged from −1.9 to +0.5 in streams within the lower quartile of human riparian and basin disturbance, and was substantially lower (−4.2 to −1.1) in streams within the upper quartile of human disturbance. Modeling results suggest that the expected range of LRBS* in streams without human disturbances in this region might be generally between −0.7 and +0.5 in either sedimentary or volcanic lithology. However, streams draining relatively soft, erodible sedimentary lithology showed greater reductions in LRBS* associated with disturbance than did those having harder, more resistant volcanic (basalt) lithology with similar levels of basin and riparian disturbance. At any given level of disturbance, smaller streams had lower LRBS* than those with larger drainages. In sedimentary lithology (sandstone and siltstone), high-gradient streams had higher LRBS* than did low-gradient streams of the same size and level of human disturbance. High gradient streams in volcanic lithology, in contrast, had lower LRBS* than low-gradient streams of similar size and disturbance. Correlations between Dgm and land disturbance were stronger than those observed between D*cbf and land disturbance. This pattern suggests that land use has augmented sediment supplies and increased streambed fine sediments in the most disturbed streams. However, we also show evidence that some of the apparent reductions in LRBS*, particularly in steep streams draining small volcanic drainages, may have resulted in part from anthropogenic increases in bed shear stress. The synoptic survey methods and designs we use appear adequate to evaluate regional patterns in bed stability and sedimentation and their general relationship to human disturbances. More precise field measurements of channel slope, cross-section geometry, and bed surface particle size would be required to use LRBS* in applications requiring a higher degree of accuracy and precision, such as site-specific assessments at individual streams.