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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Comparison of Empirical and Analytical Physical Assessment Approaches for Stream Restoration: A Case Study on Abrams Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

item Schwartz, John
item Carter, Daniel
item Langendoen, Eddy
item Simon, Andrew

Submitted to: Proceedings of the World Environmental and Water Resources Congress Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/30/2008
Publication Date: 5/12/2008
Citation: Schwartz, J.S., Carter, D.L., Langendoen, E.J., Simon, A. 2008. Comparison of Empirical and Analytical Physical Assessment Approaches for Stream Restoration: A Case Study on Abrams Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. In: Proceedings World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2008, May 12-16, Honolulu, HI, R. W. Babcock and R. Walton (Eds.), ASCE, Reston, VA (CDROM).

Interpretive Summary: The design of restoration measures for modified streams and channels is commonly based on a method called Natural Channel Design (NCD). The NCD approach uses metrics that are based on an “effective” or “bankfull” water flow rate that moves a significant portion of the stream sediments and maintains the form of an unmodified channel. Hence, these metrics may not have an equivalent in modified streams. Utilizing channel evolution computer models the applicability of the NCD approach was evaluated for a modified section of Abrams Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. It was found that the effective discharge for this modified stream was greatly overestimated by the NCD approach. Computer models that simulate runoff of water on the landscape and the flow of water in streams can be used to adequately determine effective discharge. Further, the computer models were able to provide information on streambank and streambed adjustment, whereas the NCD approach could not. The additional data needed to operate the computer models can also be used to reduce the uncertainties in assessment outcomes of restoration designs. Agencies and organizations active in restoring streams using the NCD method should carefully determine effective discharge.

Technical Abstract: A physical assessment approach referred to as natural channel design (NCD) is commonly used today by stream restoration practitioners, which requires an empirical-based comparison between study and reference reaches. Use of available analytical tools, or models, into pre-design physical assessments is not widely applied, an approach that does not require a reference condition. As a case study, a comparison of empirical and analytical approaches was conducted on Abrams Creek, located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM), Tennessee. Historically, the Abrams Creek valley was used for subsistence agriculture beginning in the 19th century, and cattle grazing more recently between the 1930’s and 1960’s. Several tributaries and a few mainstem sections were channelized for agricultural purposes. GRSM resource managers requested that a channel stability assessment be conducted to evaluate whether restoration was needed because a consulting group was promoting a project on Abrams Creek in order to obtain mitigation credits. This study provided an opportunity to compare geomorphic data input/outputs used in NCD and analytical approaches. The NCD approach utilized stream classification and various geomorphic channel attributes at “bankfull” for a departure-type analysis. The analytical approach utilized HEC-RAS and CONCEPTS models. Supporting these approaches, assessment of channel condition also included: aerial photo interpretation, rapid geomorphic assessments for stability indices, and longitudinal profile knickpoint analysis. Some of the findings included: 1) bankfull flow was greatly overestimated by the empirical approach, whereas HEC-RAS with a hydrological analysis provided a more reasonable estimate, 2) a departure analysis found that C4 study and reference reaches were similar for most geomorphic attributes, except for channel slope and bank material, which made restoration needs difficult to discern, and 3) CONCEPTS provided useful information on bed aggradation/degradation and bank failure rates, whereas the NCD approach could not. In addition, similarities and differences of data input needs, and where professional judgment influences assessment outcomes were identified to better understand uncertainties associated with outcomes for both assessment approaches.

Last Modified: 06/27/2017
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