New Tools for the Protection, Monitoring, and Restoration of Surface Waters

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by John McArthur, Streamside Systems
Volume 22, Number 3, Fall 2011

Despite countless land-use regulations, and development of a wide variety of Best Management Practices (BMP’s) for erosion control, sedimentation has remained a primary impairment to surface waters for many decades. Excess fine sediments (<2 mm) cause many adverse biological, habitat, and economic impacts. Additionally, the silt/clay fractions may host sediment-associated nutrients, parasites, and chemicals or microbiological contaminants. With ongoing growth and development increasing the percentage of impervious area in a watershed, increased runoff and more frequent flooding lead to greater erosion and increasing sediment impacts.

Flushing harmful sediments and associated pollutants is unacceptable, as this “policy” threatens everything from mountain headwaters to coastal estuaries. Farmers in South Dakota are just as responsible for the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico as the partiers on Bourbon Street. Remember: “Everyone Lives Downstream”. Updated regulations must mandate the selective removal of harmful sediments, or sediment issues will remain our primary surface water impairment. If major pollutants are not removed, obviously the problem will not diminish, and will continue to spread.

Streamside Systems, LLC offers a variety of equipment that can selectively capture and remove only the harmful fine sediments. Active and passive Streamside technologies offer capture/removal efficiencies approaching 100%. Harmful sediments are selectively removed from surface and subsurface areas, restoring clean native substrates, increasing subsurface pore space and interstitial habitat, and preventing the downstream migration of pollutants. Streamside Systems offers a wide array of products including Collectors, the Sand Wand, and the Airy Gator. Additionally Streamside Systems has collaborated with MAD Scientist & Associates and Bee-Mats to install floating wetlands for water quality improvement.

This green line issue offers the first installment, summarizing the potential application for one technology-fusion approach in ecosystem protection and restoration: Collectors. Other products will be showcased in upcoming issues. Streamside Systems’ Collectors:
Collectors are designed to selectively capture and remove targeted particle sizes of sediments as they move along the stream bottom as bed load. Interchangeable screens allow flexibility in targeted sizes. Multiple-hopper Collectors are available to capture and classify bedload by size fractions from sands and finer, to gravels, and even cobble and larger. Collectors have been used successfully to capture and remove bed sediments as fine as iron flocculent (in a glacial outwash stream in Alaska, to restore a spawning environment favorable for survival of salmonid eggs). The Collector is installed in the stream bed, and does not impede stream flow, navigation, or recreation. In high gradient systems, Collectors can often be installed with a siphon withdrawal, so no power is required at remote mountainous locations. In lower gradient rivers, the collected sediments are pumped out, and a variety of site-specific dewatering or sediment disposal options are available.

Collectors offer many advantages over traditional methods of removing sediments from rivers, such as drag lining or suction dredging. Dredging is unselective, and removes desirable habitat materials present, while Collectors selectively remove only the harmful fines and leave the beneficial coarse material in the stream. Dredging causes direct biological and water quality impacts, while Collectors can utilize a closed water loop to pump out and dewater sediments, returning the water to the hopper; this eliminates clogging issues on the hopper screens, eliminates impingement of debris or biota on the screens, and prevents any entrainment of fish eggs, macroinvertebrates, or other biota. One of dredging’s most harmful impacts is morphological; by creating holes in the stream bed, accelerated erosion and incision can result in headcutting the upstream channel and tributaries throughout the watershed. In contrast, a Collector acts as a grade control structure to protect the channel from headcutting. Collectors are scalable, and range from two-foot wide units to 300 and even 500-foot wide units. Thirty-foot units are now operating on tributaries to Grand Lake St Marys in Ohio, and a high capacity thirty-foot unit was installed in Fountain Creek (Pueblo, CO) in July. The largest units are intended to be used to capture bed sediments from major rivers such as the Mississippi, and use the material to rebuild coastal wetlands.

As the Collector removes the finer bed load sediments, coarser materials pass over the Collector and remain in the channel. A progressive coarsening of the stream substrate generally improves the downstream habitat for fish and macroinvertebrates. Collectors can easily be incorporated into stream restoration projects, such as by installing a Collector at the invert of a cross-vane; this economizes by allowing use of a smaller Collector (roughly 1/3 of the channel width) rather than a complete cross-section, and Collectors can easily be retrofitted to existing cross vanes in any streams with excess sediment problems. Collectors can be conveniently located at road crossings by incorporating them into culvert designs; a central Collector will address low flow transport, while lateral Collectors can be installed at a higher elevation for intermittent operation only during high flows, at a “floodplain” stage.

Applications for Collectors are as numerous as the types of sediment impacts themselves. Collectors can be used for emergency response, to prevent downstream transport of harmful or contaminated sediments following spills, dam breaks, or BMP failures. Collectors can be used to protect fish and habitat from accelerated erosion and ash runoff after forest fires or eruptions. An obvious application is installation of Collectors at the mouths of tributaries to reservoirs, to reduce reservoir sedimentation, to maintain storage and hydroelectric generating capacity, and to reduce flood risk. Because stream channels downstream from reservoirs often are sediment-starved and incising, a “reservoir bypass Collector” can capture tributary bedload and reintroduce it below the dam (at the natural bedload transport rate), to maintain natural channel morphology and spawning habitat. Similarly, the use of Collectors to prevent downstream sediment impacts below dam-removal projects is a rational alternative to letting decade’s worth of lake muck flush downstream to impact miles of streams and/or other impoundments. Collectors are also well suited to coastal applications, and bi-directional Collectors can be used in tidal waterways and navigation channels.

With a product output of clean-washed river sand, the commercial applications for Collectors are also significant, while reducing the adverse impacts associated with alternative methods of in-stream mining. It is a very “Green Solution” to take a pollutant and “Turn it into a Valuable Commercial Product”. This is a goal in several Streamside projects, such as using the clean-washed sand output to produce permeable paving blocks, to be sold and used within the watershed to address the sediment problem that is caused to some extent by impervious cover. Looking at large Collectors in major rivers as grade control structures that can offset the need to dredge, while maintaining navigation depths, the output sediment could also be used (e.g., Missouri and Mississippi Rivers) to raise the height of existing levees to reduce flood risk, to stockpile sand bags and material for future floods, to build new critical infrastructure at higher elevations, and (e.g., with a reservoir bypass system to maintain storage capacity) to significantly reduce flood risk.

The Hydraulics Laboratory at the Engineering Research Center at Colorado State University documented the Collector capture efficiency (pdf copy of report available online: http://www.streamsidesystems.com/Streamside_SystemsWEB/Study/CSU.pdf. Using a variety of substrates, current velocities, and depths, the regression equation for mobilized bedload versus material captured by the Collector showed r-squared = 0.99, confirming the exceptional suitability of Collectors not just for efficiently addressing the sediment and habitat issue, but for accurately measuring the actual transport rates of bedload sediments. (The same test with a Helly-Smith Bedload Sampler gave an r-squared of 0.43). This confirms the accuracy and suitability of Streamside Collectors for developing or improving the bedload monitoring aspect of watershed sediment budgets, on any scale. The obvious solution to the extreme temporal and spatial variability of traditional bedload sampling, is to completely eliminate the variability by monitoring bedload on a complete stream cross-section, continuously, for days, weeks, or even years.

For routine monitoring throughout watersheds, two and four-foot Collectors are ideal, and can be easily transported and installed by one person, and the data can be used to identify priority source areas or tributaries of concern, or to develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL’s) specifically for the bedload fines that are most responsible for biological and habitat impacts.

Stay tuned to future green line issues for descriptions and applications of more innovative Streamside Systems products!