The Role of Sediment-Transport Evaluations for Development of Modeled Instream Flows: Policy and Approach in Texas

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Geography and Geology


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


Instream-flow scientists embrace streamflow as the master variable driving aquatic and riparian ecosystems, and that natural flow variability is imperative for river conservation and restoration efforts. Sediment transport, which is critical for maintenance of physical habitats in rivers and floodplains, has received less direct attention from instream-flow practitioners. This article serves to highlight the roles of sediment-transport evaluations in modifying or verifying instream-flow prescriptions based on hydrology alone. Two examples of sediment-transport evaluations are discussed in relation to the Texas Senate Bill 3 Environmental Flows allocation process, a mandate to "develop environmental flow analyses and a recommended flow regime" that "maintain(s) the viability of the state's streams, rivers, and bay and estuary systems" using "reasonably available science". The first example provides an evaluation of effective discharge of suspended-sediment load of the lower Brazos River. The magnitude and frequency of effective discharge occurs between typical high-flow pulses and overbank flows, indicating that hydrologic and physical processes are not optimally coupled in some flow-regime models. The second example utilizes the Hydrology-Based Environmental Flow Regime (HEFR) model to prescribe instream flows for the lower Sabine River, and compares modeled bed-material loads for observed and HEFR-prescribed flow regimes. Results indicate that annual water and sediment yields are greatly reduced for the modeled flow regime. It should be noted, however, that different input variables to the HEFR model would have resulted in different computations of water and sediment yields, reinforcing that instream-flow practitioners should exercise great caution when applying rule-of-thumb procedures to generate flow prescriptions. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved,

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Journal of Environmental Management



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