Fluvial Instability and Riparian Degradation


Nutrient enrichment and eutrophication of streams, lakes, and coastal zones has become one of the most pressing environmental problems facing society today. Excessive nutrient loading degrades the quality of aquatic habitat, threatens provision of safe drinking water; diminishes watershed functions and services; and limits the aesthetic, social, and economic value of aquatic ecosystems. In many watersheds, land use changes and altered flows of water and sediment have resulted in fluvial instability, bank erosion, incision, and loss of riparian functions.

Despite the fact that fluvial geomorphic processes significantly affect loading of both pollutant loading and riparian buffer effectiveness, they have received relatively little attention in nutrient management planning and reduction strategies.

This project is aimed at advancing the inclusion of fluvial erosion processes and their effects on nutrient delivery via channel instability and degraded riparian functions in nutrient assessments and reduction strategies.

Linkages between bank erosion, incision, and other forms of channel instability; delivery and transport of sediment-adsorbed phosphorus from streambanks; and degradation of riparian nutrient-removal functions are examined. This is a critical issue in nutrient management because fluvial instability and stream network adjustments to land use change are ubiquitous, and channel erosion is the primary source of fine sediment and adsorbed phosphorus in many watersheds.


The objectives of this project are to:

Develop a framework and practical tools that will help managers assess the contributions of fluvial instability (bank erosion, incision, and riparian degradation) to excessive N and P loading.

Estimate the cost-effectiveness of diverse stream and riparian rehabilitation strategies.

Evaluate the robustness, chance of adoption, and uncertainty of both conventional and innovative practices for reducing nutrient loading from channel-riparian interfaces in disturbed fluvial systems.

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Brian Bledsoe
Dan Baker