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Analysis of bank erosion on the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

January 1, 1994

Channel changes from 1919 to 1989 were documented in two study reaches of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park through a review of historical photographs and documents and a comparison of survey data. Bank erosion was prevalent and channel width increased an average of 27% in the upstream reach, where human use was concentrated. Here, trampling of the banks and riparian vegetation was common, and banks eroded on straight stretches as frequently as on meander bends. Six bridges in the upper reach constrict the channel by an average of 38% of the original width, causing severe erosion. In the downstream control reach, where human use was minimal, channel widths both decreased and increased, with a mean increase of only 4% since 1919. Bank erosion in the control reach occurred primarily on meander bends. The control reach also had denser stands of riparian vegetation and a higher frequency of large woody debris in channels. There is only one bridge in the lower reach, located at the downstream end. Since 1919, bank erosion in the impacted upstream reach contributed a significant amount of sediment (74,800 tonnes, equivalent to 2.0 t/km2/yr) to the river. An analysis of 75 years of precipitation and hydrologic records showed no trends responsible for bank erosion in the upper reach. Sediment input to the upper reach has not changed significantly during the study period. Floodplain soils are sandy, with low cohesion and are easily detached by lateral erosion. The degree of channel widening was positively correlated with the percentage of bare ground on the streambanks and low bank stability ratings. Low bank stability ratings were, in turn, strongly associated with high human use areas. Channel widening and bank erosion in the upper reach were due primarily to destruction of riparian vegetation by human trampling and the effect of bridge constrictions on high flow, and secondarily to poorly installed channel revetments. Several specific recommendations for river restoration were provided to park management.

Publication Year 1994
Title Analysis of bank erosion on the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, USA
DOI 10.1007/BF02393764
Authors Mary Ann Madej, W.E. Weaver, D.K. Hagans
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Management
Index ID 1008135
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center