Understanding the controls on deposited fine sediment in the streams of agricultural catchments.
366 - 381
Sci Total Environ
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Excessive sediment pressure on aquatic habitats is of global concern. A unique dataset, comprising instantaneous measurements of deposited fine sediment in 230 agricultural streams across England and Wales, was analysed in relation to 20 potential explanatory catchment and channel variables. The most effective explanatory variable for the amount of deposited sediment was found to be stream power, calculated for bankfull flow and used to index the capacity of the stream to transport sediment. Both stream power and velocity category were highly significant (p ≪ 0.001), explaining some 57% variation in total fine sediment mass. Modelled sediment pressure, predominantly from agriculture, was marginally significant (p<0.05) and explained a further 1% variation. The relationship was slightly stronger for erosional zones, providing 62% explanation overall. In the case of the deposited surface drape, stream power was again found to be the most effective explanatory variable (p<0.001) but velocity category, baseflow index and modelled sediment pressure were all significant (p<0.01); each provided an additional 2% explanation to an overall 50%. It is suggested that, in general, the study sites were transport-limited and the majority of stream beds were saturated by fine sediment. For sites below saturation, the upper envelope of measured fine sediment mass increased with modelled sediment pressure. The practical implications of these findings are that (i) targets for fine sediment loads need to take into account the ability of streams to transport/retain fine sediment, and (ii) where agricultural mitigation measures are implemented to reduce delivery of sediment, river management to mobilise/remove fines may also be needed in order to effect an improvement in ecological status in cases where streams are already saturated with fines and unlikely to self-cleanse.