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Influence of anthropogenic alterations on geomorphic response to climate variations and change in San Francisco Bay-Delta and watershed

February 2, 2016

Global warming and attendant sea-level rise may soon impact geomorphic processes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay Delta systems. During the past two centuries, dramatic anthropogenic changes in sediment supply and pervasive structural controls on rivers and floodplains have altered geomorphic responses to floods throughout a zone that extends upstream from tidally influenced areas to dams that regulate flow. Current geomorphic responses to floods differ from natural responses due to historical actions that concentrated the pre-disturbance multiple-channel and flood-basin system into single channels isolated by levees from increasingly developed floodplains and flood bypass channels, altered flow and sediment regimes, and caused subsidence of leveed Delta Islands. A review of historic and current geomorphic responses to floods illustrates the dominance of structural controls on geomorphic changes in the lowland part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin system. Current climate-change projections for CA suggest that the total volume of snowmelt runoff that may be shifted from spring and added to winter flows is roughly 5 maf/yr, similar to the volume currently available for flood storage in Sierra Nevadan reservoirs. Changes in timing of reservoir releases to accommodate these changes could add to either the magnitude or duration of winter flood peaks, each causing different geomorphic responses. Increased wintertime flows that accompany already large floods could increase overbank flood extent, erosion, and sedimentation, or alternatively increase the depth and strength of confined flows and increase the risk of levee failures. Runoff released from reservoirs as a relatively constant addition to winter baseflow would increase the duration of bankfull or possibly "levee-full" flows. This scenario could lead to bank and levee failure through increased saturation and seepage erosion. Projected sea level rise of 1-2 m would compound vulnerability of subsided Delta Islands to levee failure during floods and increase upstream backwater flooding. Thus, geomorphic responses to future climate variation and change will be closely tied to infrastructure and reservoir management, with survivability of infrastructure and decisions about timing, magnitude, and duration of flow releases from upstream reservoirs likely to determine the nature of those geomorphic responses.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2004
Title Influence of anthropogenic alterations on geomorphic response to climate variations and change in San Francisco Bay-Delta and watershed
Authors J.L. Florsheim, M. D. Dettinger
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Watershed Management Council Networker
Index ID 70175011
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization San Francisco Bay-Delta

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