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Opportunities and challenges for restoration of the Merced River through Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, USA

September 2, 2020

Successful river restoration requires understanding and integration of multiple disciplinary perspectives, including evaluations of past and ongoing watershed processes, local geomorphic response, and impacts unique to human activity. Nowhere is this more apparent than along the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, USA, where both an outstanding natural landscape and the consequences of over a century of human disturbances continue to interact. An intact upstream watershed highlights the importance here of local impacts on geomorphic response. Incision and the resulting decoupling of the channel from its adjacent late-Holocene floodplain are consequences of reduced channel roughness, likely from de-snagging the river, and instream gravel mining in the 19th and early 20th century. Riparian-zone disturbance by visitor use has damaged riparian vegetation and soils, inducing channel widening. Revetments and channel-spanning bridges, the latter being visible and oft-cited impacts to fluvial processes, have distorted the natural evolution of meanders and induced local channel narrowing. The historical rate of sediment export from Yosemite Valley has greatly exceeded replenishment from upstream and lateral sources, creating a deficit that now inhibits recovery via passive restoration of more natural channel form and function. Climate change may amplify now-diminished fluvial processes but also exacerbate the rate of sediment export. These conditions, reflecting a complex intersection of geologic history, modern geomorphic processes, and human interactions, demonstrate how a limited influx of sediment coupled with intensive human use can have long-term consequences for riverine conditions, restoration opportunities, and social engagement with the riverine landscape.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Opportunities and challenges for restoration of the Merced River through Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, USA
DOI 10.1002/rra.3704
Authors Derek Booth, Katie Ross-Smith, Elizabeth Haddon, Thomas Dunne, Eric W. Larsen, James W. Roche, Greg M. Stock, Virginia Mahacek
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title River Research and Applications
Series Number
Index ID 70220872
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center

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