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Damming ephemeral streams: understanding biogeomorphic shifts and implications to traversed streams due to the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal, Arizona

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Ephemeral streams in Arizona that are perpendicularly intersected by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal have been altered due to partial or complete damming of the stream channel. The dammed

Ephemeral streams in Arizona that are perpendicularly intersected by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal have been altered due to partial or complete damming of the stream channel. The dammed upstream channels have experienced decades long cycles of sediment deposition and waterlogging during storm events causing the development of "green-up" zones. This dissertation examines the biogeomorphological effects of damming ephemeral streams caused by the CAP canal by investigating: (1) changes in the preexisting spatial cover of riparian vegetation and how these changes are affected by stream geometry; (2) green-up initiation and evolution; and (3) changes in plant species and community level changes. To the author's knowledge, this is the only study that undertakes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the environmental responses to anthropogenically-altered ephemeral stream channels. The results presented herein show that vegetation along the upstream section increased by an average of 200,872 m2 per kilometer of the CAP canal over a 28 year period. Vegetation growth was compared to channel widths which share a quasi-linear relationship. Remote sensing analysis of Landsat TM images using an object-oriented approach shows that riparian vegetation cover gradually increased over 28 years. Field studies reveal that the increases in vegetation are attributed to the artificial rise in local base-level upstream created by the canal, which causes water to spill laterally onto the desert floor. Vegetation within the green-up zone varies considerably in comparison to pre-canal construction. Changes are most notable in vegetation community shifts and abundance. The wettest section of the green-up zone contains the greatest density of woody plant stems, the greatest vegetation volume, and a high percentage of herbaceous cover. Vegetation within wetter zones changed from a tree-shrub to a predominantly tree-herb assemblage, whereas desert shrubs located in zones with intermediate moisture have developed larger stems. Results from this study lend valuable insight to green-up processes associated with damming ephemeral streams, which can be applied to planning future canal or dam projects in drylands. Also, understanding the development of the green-up zones provide awareness to potentially avoiding flood damage to infrastructure that may be unknowingly constructed within the slow-growing green-up zone.

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  • 2014