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Delayed effects of flood control on a flood-dependent riparian forest

January 1, 2005

The downstream effects of dams on riparian forests are strongly mediated by the character and magnitude of adjustment of the fluvial–geomorphic system. To examine the effects of flow regulation on sand-bed streams in eastern Colorado, we studied the riparian forest on three river segments, the dam-regulated South Fork Republican River downstream of Bonny Dam, the unregulated South Fork Republican River upstream of Bonny Dam, and the unregulated Arikaree River. Although Bonny Dam significantly reduced peak and mean discharge downstream since 1951, there was little difference in forest structure between the regulated and unregulated segments. On all river segments, the riparian forest was dominated by the native pioneer tree, Populus deltoides, which became established during a period of channel narrowing beginning after the 1935 flood of record and ending by 1965. The nonnative Elaeagnus angustifolia was present on all river segments, with recruitment ongoing. The lack of contrast in forest structure between regulated and unregulated reaches resulted primarily from the fact that no large floods occurred on any of the study segments since dam construction. Most of the riparian forest in the study area was located on the broad narrowing terrace, which was rarely inundated on the unregulated segments, resulting in little contrast with the regulated segment. A minor dam effect occurred on the small modern floodplain, which was actively disturbed on the unregulated segments, but not on the regulated segments. Although Bonny Dam had the potential to significantly influence downstream riparian ecosystems, this influence had not been expressed, and may never be if a large flood does not occur within the lifetime of the dam. Minor dam effects to riparian systems can be expected downstream of large dams in some settings, including the present example in which there was insufficient time for the dam effects to by fully expressed.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2005
Title Delayed effects of flood control on a flood-dependent riparian forest
DOI 10.1890/04-0076
Authors Gabrielle L. Katz, Jonathan M. Friedman, Susan W. Beatty
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Series Number
Index ID 1015301
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center