Consequences of Instream Gravel Mining

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Consequences of Instream Gravel Mining

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Consequences of Instream Gravel Mining

Consequences of Instream Gravel Mining

Consequences of Instream Gravel Mining

Biological consequences of instream gravel mining (as reported in various studies) can be summarized as follows. Direct, transient effects include increased fine sediment load to downstream reaches, commonly during low flow periods when flows would normally clear. The increased suspended fine sediment can directly affect respiration through gills, and impact invertebrate communities (e.g., Foshage and Carter 1973, Rivier and Seguier 1985). Because low flows are inadequate to disperse the sediment downstream, fine sediment from the mining tends to settle out and have more persistent effects, by infiltrating into spawning gravels (Carling and Reader 1982) and reducing incubation success, covering gravel riffles and eliminating invertebrate habitat, filling interstices of cobble beds and eliminating juvenile salmonid habitat, and filling pools, thereby eliminating important habitats for many organisms.

Bar scalping reduces salmonid rearing habitat, side channel habitat preferred by salmonids, riparian canopy cover, benthic invertebrate habitat, and instream woody debris (Weigand 1991, Pauley et al. 1989). Removal of the riffle crest by bar scalping eliminates hydraulic control for the channel upstream leading to washout of upstream riffles and any salmon eggs present, and reach-scale channel steepening and bed incision. Chinook that would normally spawn at pool tailout riffles have been observed to relocate into the main channel after riffles were incised as a result of downstream bar scalping (Ken Bates, WDFW personal communication 2001).

Channel-wide instream mining eliminates channel form and confinement, thereby eliminating channel complexity and resultant habitats. Removal of riparian vegetation from bars and banks leads to reduced shading (potentially increasing water temperatures on small rivers), reduced input of nutrients and insects from overhanging riparian vegetation (reducing productivity and food for salmonids), and reduced input of large woody debris (thereby reducing channel complexity and habitat). Channel incision caused by instream mining, especially by cumulative effects of mining at several sites over many years along the same reach, causes lowered alluvial groundwater tables, desiccation of riparian and floodplain vegetation, reduced channelfloodplain interactions, and elimination of processes of channel migration and the consequent habitat creation.

Any extraction of gravel from the channel bed interrupts sediment transport continuity and represents a lo ss term in the sediment transport budget, thereby inducing channel instability, and reducing the volume of downstream bars (Dunne et al. 1981). Associated channel incision changes the patterns and influences of alluvial groundwater-surface water exchanges along the river system. Depending on the geologic settings, this may decrease or increase base flows, with consequent impacts or benefits to habitat. Where the gravel thickness over bedrock is thin, incision can reduce or eliminate the hyporheic zone. Bed coarsening or fining can also result, and may further reduce the suitability of gravels for spawning by salmonids.

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