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Impacts of gravel mining and renaturation measures on the sediment flux and budget in an alpine catchment (Johnsbach Valley, Austria)

Rascher, Eric, Rindler, Rolf, Habersack, Helmut, Sass, Oliver
Geomorphology 2018 v.318 pp. 404-420
bedload, bedrock, dolomite, flood control, gravel, mining, monitoring, rivers, sediment transport, topographic slope, watersheds, Austria
In the Johnsbach Valley (Austria), a medium size non-glaciated torrent catchment, enormous amounts of sediment have been made available due to the brittle dolomite bedrock. This occurs mainly in the Zwischenmäuerstrecke (ZMS) (English translation: “reach between the walls”) and presents a major challenge to local river management. Within a renaturation project, which followed several decades of disturbance (flood protection and gravel mining) in the ZMS, it is of particular importance to understand where the sediments come from and the transport pathways through the system to prepare future forecasts.In the present study, we investigate the recent sediment cascade in a comprehensive analysis of the ZMS that was achieved by means of airborne laser scanning campaigns in 2010 and 2015. The current bedload yield at the outlet was measured using an integrative bedload monitoring system. Historical data from 1954 was used to illustrate the effects of the mining period on the former sediment routing. Finally, we evaluated the expected sediment transport rates in the near future.The results show that from the hillslopes sediments are mainly transported via the active side trenches to the main channel (~7000 m³ yr⁻¹). The sediment transport in the Johnsbach River consists mainly in relocating the periodically occurring sediment entries of the side trenches. The bedload transport rates at the outlet sum up to annual bedload yields of 2000 m³ yr⁻¹ to almost 12,000 m³ yr⁻¹ during the observation period. Especially those areas inside the side trenches that were heavily affected by gravel mining (excavated amount of sediment during the mining period: ~25,000 m³ yr⁻¹) are now accumulating sediment since the end of this period (~8000 m³ yr⁻¹).Future scenarios will depend heavily on the progress in the mining affected side channels. The impacts of this period are continuously being reworked and a natural sediment flow will adjust in the near future. The sediment input into the Johnsbach River will rise significantly and could lead to a doubling in the annual sediment yield at the outlet compared to now. In particular, the reaches along the Johnsbach River following the confluences with the mining affected side trenches are already showing morphological changes due to the recently imported sediments.