Combining historical and process perspectives to infer ranges of geomorphic variability and inform river restoration in a wandering gravel-bed river

Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, Andrew C. Wilcox, Johnnie N. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Restoration approaches such as dam removal and channel reconstruction have moved beyond the realm of small streams and are being applied to larger rivers. This development has substantial economic and ecological implications but may test gaps in our understanding of larger river systems and of restoration science. We examine how information about historical ranges of geomorphic variability can inform stream restoration in the context of the Clark Fork River, Montana, focusing on a study reach where one of the largest restoration projects to date was implemented, upstream of the recently removed Milltown Dam. Analysis of historical sources and aerial photographs of the Clark Fork River's pre-mining, mining, and more recent history suggest that a wandering channel pattern has persisted despite variations in sediment supply and transport capacity. Predictive metrics for channel pattern also suggest a wandering pattern, transitional between braided and meandering, in this geomorphic setting. These analyses suggest that the creation of a single-thread meandering channel, which incorporates structures to limit erosion and channel movement, is inconsistent with the historical range of variability in this reach. The perils of restoring channels to a condition different than the historical range of variability for their geomorphic setting were illustrated on the Clark Fork by flood-induced avulsions of the restored channel that occurred soon after project construction. Application of an experimental approach to restoration, founded on the method of multiple working hypotheses, provides a means for embracing uncertainty, can maximize the potential for site-specific restoration success, and can foster advances in restoration science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1302-1312
Number of pages11
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Volume37
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 30 2012

Keywords

  • Dam removal
  • Historical geomorphology
  • Historical range of variability
  • Multi-thread
  • Wandering

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