Short- to Medium-Term Geomorphic Response of the Souhegan River to the 2008 Removal of the Merrimack Village Dam in Southern New Hampshire
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 9:45 AM
Removing the Merrimack Village Dam on the lower Souhegan River (drainage area ~570 km2) in southern New Hampshire in August 2008 provided a field-scale experiment in river response to a major change in sediment flux and base level. We began monitoring the study area in August 2007, surveying a series of eight permanent cross sections within the impoundment and four downstream between the dam and the confluence with the Merrimack River (drainage area ~8,000 km2). We also surveyed the longitudinal profile through the 1-km study reach, measured bed grain size distribution, and photographed the site from ground-level stations. We conducted nine repeat surveys from 2008 to 2014, with the greatest frequency soon after dam removal. In 2012 and 2014, we also surveyed the former impoundment using low-altitude aerial photographs and structure-from-motion photogrammetry. The dam removal resulted in a near-instantaneous 3.9-m drop in base level in the impoundment. The river incised rapidly through the impounded sand and removed over 50% of it within the first two months. This added sediment load resulted in up to 3.2 m of deposition in the downstream reach. After the initial, rapid phase of channel adjustment, ongoing erosion of reservoir sediment depended primarily on flood events that could access sediment stored outside of the newly developed, active channel. By 2011, about 20% of the impounded sand remained, and this proportion was similar in the 2012 and 2014 surveys. The erosion process in the former impoundment was modulated by the recruitment of large wood (several 15-20 m tall trees with intact rootballs) from terraces through bank erosion, which remained stable in the channel and armored the banks. In the past two years, these trees have begun to be buried in newly deposited sediment, suggesting initiation of a floodplain large-wood cycle (Collins et al., 2012). At present, establishment of herbaceous vegetation on geomorphic surfaces is an important process controlling the medium-term response of the former impoundment.