Quantifying the Hydrological Effects of Stream Restoration in a Montane Meadow, Northern California, USA

Stream restoration efforts, particularly within meadow systems, increasingly rely on 'pond and plug' type methods in which (a) alluvial materials are excavated from the floodplain, forming ponds; (b) excavated alluvial materials are used to plug incised channels and (c) smaller dimension channels are restored to the floodplain surface. A commonly stated objective of these efforts is to restore ecologically significant hydrological processes to degraded riparian systems. However, little research has been conducted to evaluate and quantify the restoration of these hydrological processes. Direct comparisons of pre- and post-restoration hydrological observations are often misleading due to an inter-annual climatic variability. To overcome this issue and accurately quantify the hydrological effects of restoration, we developed, calibrated and validated a hydrological model of a 230 ha mountain meadow along a 3.6 km restored reach of Bear Creek in the northeastern California. We then applied the model to simulate the pre- and post-restoration scenarios by altering the floodplain topography and stream channel networks. Our results document three general hydrological responses to the meadow restoration effort: (1) increased groundwater levels and volume of subsurface storage; (2) increased frequency/duration of floodplain inundation and decreased magnitude of flood peaks and (3) decreased annual runoff and duration of baseflow. This study supports and quantifies the hypothesis that 'pond and plug' type stream restoration projects have the capacity to re-establish hydrological processes necessary to sustain riparian systems. In addition, the results of this study can be used to improve quantitative objectives for 'pond and plug' type stream restoration activities in similar settings. Copyright (C) 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.