Impacts of Floods on Riparian Groundwater and Post-Event Streamflow Across Spatial and Temporal Scales
AuthorSimpson, Scott Carlyle
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractRiparian areas are valuable resources, particularly in semi-arid areas where water is usually scarce and rapid streamflow responses to runoff are common. Only recently has the importance of in-channel recharge during high streamflow periods ("floods") been recognized in rivers with gaining and losing reaches where recharge processes and flowpaths can be very complex. This dissertation builds upon this recent work by investigating how three factors influence how riparian systems respond to floods over a range of temporal and spatial scales. First, the impact of differences in local hydrogeologic forcings are investigated at the seasonal and 50 meter-reach scales. Second, the significance of flood event size and duration is studied at the multi-year and river (~50 Km) scale. Third, an underlying mechanism behind how changes in bed sediment composition can influence stream-aquifer interactions at the event- and point-scales is developed. Major findings of this work include observations along the Upper San Pedro River of seasonal floodwater storage below moderately gaining reaches and longer-term storage below losing reaches (seasonal to multi-year depending on the nature of the riparian groundwater flow system). The longest and largest floods (with respect to flow volume) dominate floodwater recharge in the Bill Williams River and an apparent flood size and duration threshold exists. This threshold must be met or exceeded in order for individual events to induce observable amounts of recharge that can then influence the amount and composition of later streamflow. This threshold agrees with the process presented here involving preferential mobilization and deposition of fine bed sediment particles--which dictate hydraulic conductivity--during each event that would lead to disproportionately more recharge during large floods. Forecasts of increased precipitation intensity and decreased annual precipitation in some regions, including the southwestern United States, due to changes in the earth's climate are likely to make floods a more important driver of riparian hydrologic processes. Consequently, the work presented here and other process-based studies of how floods influence riparian hydrology and water quality will be useful in making well-informed decisions regarding riparian preservation, management and restoration as human demands and the global climate change in the future.
Degree ProgramGraduate College