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Geomorphic Framework to assess changes to aquatic habitat due to flow regulation and channel and floodplain alteration, Cedar River, Washington

January 1, 2012

Flow regulation, bank armoring, and floodplain alteration since the early 20th century have contributed to significant changes in the hydrologic regime and geomorphic processes of the Cedar River in Washington State. The Cedar River originates in the Cascade Range, provides drinking water to the Seattle metropolitan area, and supports several populations of anadromous salmonids. Flow regulation currently has limited influence on the magnitude, duration, and timing of high-flow events, which affect the incubation of salmonids as well as the production and maintenance of their habitat. Unlike structural changes to the channel and floodplain, flow regulation may be modified in the short-term to improve the viability of salmon populations. An understanding of the effects of flow regulation on those populations must be discerned over a range of scales from individual floods that affect the size of individual year classes to decadal high flow regime that influences the amount and quality of channel and off-channel habitat available for spawning and rearing. We present estimates of reach-scale sediment budgets and changes to channel morphology derived from historical orthoimagery, specific gage analyses at four long-term streamflow-gaging stations to quantify trends in aggradation, and hydrologic statistics of the magnitude and duration of peak streamflows. These data suggest a gradient of channel types from unconfined, sediment-rich segments to confined, sediment-poor segments that are likely to have distinct responses to high flows. Particle-size distribution data and longitudinal water surface and streambed profiles for the 56 km downstream of Chester Morse Lake measured in 2010 show the spatial extent of preferred salmonid habitat along the Cedar River. These historical and current data constitute a geomorphic framework to help assess different river management scenarios for salmonid habitat and population viability. PDF version of a presentation on changes to aquatic habitat at the Cedar River in Washington state. Presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2010.