Management of Instream Gravel Mining

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Management of Instream Gravel Mining

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Management of Instream Gravel Mining

Management of Instream Gravel Mining

Management of Instream Gravel Mining

Resolving the Effects of Instream Mining from Other Influences
In many rivers, several factors potentially causing incision in the channel may be operating simultaneously, such as sediment trapping by dams, reduced channel migration by bank protection, reduced overbank flooding from levees, and instream mining (Galay 1983). In many rivers, the rate of aggregate extraction is an order of magnitude greater than the rate of sediment supply from the drainage basin, providing strong evidence for the role of extraction in causing channel change. However, in cases where extraction rates are not so much greater than other components of the sediment budget, gravel mining effects may be more subject to different interpretation.

On Stony Creek, California, the incision produced by Black Butte Reservoir could be clearly distinguished from the effects of instream mining at the Highway 32 bridge by virtue of the distinct temporal and spatial patterns of incision. The dam-induced incision was pronounced downstream of the reservoir soon after its construction in 1963. By contrast, the instream mining (at rates exceeding the pre-dam sediment supply by 200-600 percent, and exceeding the postdam sediment supply by 1000-3000 percent) produced incision of up to 7 m (23 ft) centered in the mining reach near the Highway 32 bridge, after intensification of gravel mining in the 1970s (Kondolf and Swanson 1993).

Lag in Channel Response to Gravel Mining

Bedload sediment transport occurs as a power function of discharge, so variations in discharge produce even greater variations in sediment transport. In most rivers, the majority of sediment transport occurs during a small percentage of the time, and this “episodic” nature of sediment transport is greater the more variable is the flow regime.

The effects of instream gravel mining may not be obvious immediately because active sediment transport is required for the effects (e.g., incision, instability) to propagate upstream and downstream. Given that geomorphically-effective sediment transporting events are infrequent on many rivers, there may be a lag of several or many years before the effects of instream mining are evident and propagate along the channel. Moreover, the initial incision tends to oversteepen and erode banks, and to induce regressive erosion up tributaries, thereby bringing sediment into the channel, and temporarily buffering the effects of sediment removal. Thus, gravel mines may operate for years without apparent effects upstream or downstream, only to have the geomorphic effects manifest years later during high flows. Similarly, rivers are often said to have “long memories”, meaning that the channel adjustments to instream extraction or comparable perturbations may persist long after the activity itself has ceased.

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