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Research Project: Ecohydrological Processes, Scale, Climate Variability, and Watershed Management

Location: Southwest Watershed Research Center

Title: Hydrologic response of streams restored with check dams in the Chiricahua Mountains

item NORMAN, L.M. - United State Geological Service
item BRINKERHOFF, F. - United State Geological Service
item GWILLIAM, E. - National Park Service
item GUERTIN, D.P. - University Of Arizona
item CALLEGARY, J. - United State Geological Service
item Goodrich, David - Dave
item NAGLER, P.L. - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item GRAY, F. - United State Geological Service

Submitted to: River Research and Applications
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/10/2015
Publication Date: 3/25/2015
Publication URL:
Citation: Norman, L., Brinkerhoff, F., Gwilliam, E., Guertin, D., Callegary, J., Goodrich, D.C., Nagler, P., Gray, F. 2015. Hydrologic response of streams restored with check dams in the Chiricahua Mountains. River Research and Applications. 1:1-11.

Interpretive Summary: In this study, the effectiveness of in-channel rock-detention structures (check dams) was evaluated using paired watersheds during a summer monsoon season in southeast Arizona. The effects of using check dams to treat watersheds for mitigation of high flows were explored along with their potential for assisting in long-term maintenance of near stream vegetation. We analyzed two adjacent watersheds in the West Turkey Creek area of the Chiricahua Mountains during June-October of 2013: One had a series of check dams over the past 30 years and one had no check dams. Our goal was to develop a method to systematically evaluate how these watersheds response to monsoon storms without investing large amounts of time and money in instruments to measure rainfall, runoff, evaporation and plant water use. Three types of non-traditional data are coupled to develop results: 1) Field data are collected from the installation of a simple runoff estimation procedure that measures the depth of water a two locations and the stream slope between them and several existing rain gages, 2) Satellite data are used in deriving estimates of evapotranspiration, and 3) Hydrologic models are applied to calculate local water budgets and rainfall-runoff ratios. Observations document the inflow to and outflow from both watersheds. Results show that the treated watershed with check dams has a lower runoff response to precipitation, most notably in measurements of peak flow, yet sustain low flows longer after periods of rain than the untreated watershed. We surmise that check dams are a useful management tool for maintaining forested riparian ecosystems.

Technical Abstract: In this study, hydrological processes are evaluated to determine impacts of stream restoration in the West Turkey Creek, Chiricahua Mountains, southeast Arizona, during a summer-monsoon season (June–October of 2013). A paired-watershed approach was used to analyze the effectiveness of check dams to mitigate high flows and impact long-term maintenance of hydrologic function. One watershed had been extensively altered by the installation of numerous small check dams over the past 30'years, and the other was untreated (control). We modified and installed a new stream-gauging mechanism developed for remote areas, to compare the water balance and calculate rainfall–runoff ratios. Results show that even 30'years after installation, most of the check dams were still functional. The watershed treated with check dams has a lower runoff response to precipitation compared with the untreated, most notably in measurements of peak flow. Concerns that downstream flows would be reduced in the treated watershed, due to storage of water behind upstream check dams, were not realized; instead, flow volumes were actually higher overall in the treated stream, even though peak flows were dampened. We surmise that check dams are a useful management tool for reducing flow velocities associated with erosion and degradation and posit they can increase baseflow in aridlands.