Restoring hydrological and biogeochemical ecosystem services in streams: how can science inform practice?
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:15 PM
Society is increasingly recognizing the value of stream ecosystem functions, as evidenced by the enormous economic investment being made in stream restoration across the United States. Stream restoration projects have a variety of goals, including improvement in water quality and in-stream habitat. Popular approaches to restoration (such as Natural Channel Design, or NCD) aim to move degraded streams along a trajectory toward a dynamic ecological endpoint that represents natural conditions. Project designs primarily focus on channel form and function, but stream-groundwater exchanges of water and solutes are not typically a design consideration, although a primary component of fully functioning stream ecosystems. Here, we synthesize results from field investigations of the impact of NCD stream restoration on stream-groundwater exchanges by (1) comparing restored sites to reference reaches, which serve as the basis for the restoration design, (2) characterizing multiple restored sites to determine universal characteristics of streams restored by NCD, and (3) monitoring a stream pre- and post- restoration. NCD restoration creates hot spots of rapid hyporheic exchange upstream of channel spanning structures, with water fluxes across the bed interface up to an order of magnitude higher than at pre-restoration or reference reaches. Elevated flux rates result in short hyporheic residence times, which are not sufficiently long to generate net changes in nutrient concentrations. Hot spots of biogeochemical transformations are instead located around secondary bedforms, such as pool-riffle sequences, where gross water exchange rates are more moderate. Reference reaches show greater evidence of groundwater discharge to the hyporheic zone relative to restored reaches, although observations before and after restoration suggest NCD can modify the spatial extent of groundwater discharge zones. Gross water exchange across the streambed interface along restored reaches is a small percentage of stream discharge, suggesting the primary impact of restoration on stream-groundwater exchange is promoting biochemical heterogeneity in the subsurface, rather than longitudinal net changes in stream solute concentrations. Results inform future design to achieve restoration goals.