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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 15, issue 9 | Copyright

Special issue: Restored river corridor dynamics

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2995-3015, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-15-2995-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 27 Sep 2011

Research article | 27 Sep 2011

Creating a catchment scale perspective for river restoration

L. Benda1, D. Miller1, and J. Barquín2 L. Benda et al.
  • 1Earth Systems Institute, Mt. Shasta, California, Seattle, Washington, USA
  • 2IH-Cantabria, Universidad de Cantabria, Avda. Los Castros s/n, 39005, Santander (Cantabria), Spain

Abstract. One of the major challenges in river restoration is to identify the natural fluvial landscape in catchments with a long history of river control. Intensive land use on valley floors often predates the earliest remote sensing: levees, dikes, dams, and other structures alter valley-floor morphology, river channels and flow regimes. Consequently, morphological patterns indicative of the fluvial landscape including multiple channels, extensive floodplains, wetlands, and fluvial-riparian and tributary-confluence dynamics can be obscured, and information to develop appropriate and cost effective river restoration strategies can be unavailable. This is the case in the Pas River catchment in northern Spain (650 km2), in which land use and development have obscured the natural fluvial landscape in many parts of the basin. To address this issue we used computer tools to examine the spatial patterns of fluvial landscapes that are associated with five domains of hydro-geomorphic processes and landforms. Using a 5-m digital elevation model, valley-floor surfaces were mapped according to elevation above the channel and proximity to key geomorphic processes. The predicted fluvial landscape is patchily distributed according to hillslope and valley topography, river network structure, and channel elevation profiles. The vast majority of the fluvial landscape in the main segments of the Pas River catchment is presently masked by human infrastructure, with only 15% not impacted by river control structures and development. The reconstructed fluvial landscape provides a catchment scale context to support restoration planning, in which areas of potential ecological productivity and diversity could be targeted for in-channel, floodplain and riparian restoration projects.

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