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Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

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Geomorphology
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/geomorph

Channel adjustments to historical disturbances along the lower Brazos


and Sabine Rivers, south-central USA
Franklin T. Heitmuller
The University of Southern Mississippi, Department of Geography and Geology, 118 College Drive #5051, Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5051, USA

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 1 April 2013
Received in revised form 4 August 2013
Accepted 15 August 2013
Available online 29 August 2013
Keywords:
Brazos River
Channel adjustment
Environmental disturbances
Flow regulation
Sabine River

a b s t r a c t
Historical channel adjustments are documented and discussed in context with anthropogenic disturbances along
two meandering, coastal plain rivers the lower Brazos and Sabine Rivers in the south-central United States.
Hard-copy streamow-measurement notes of the U.S. Geological Survey were utilized to render historical
cross sections (19252007) at nine gauging stations, which were complemented with repeat photographs
and ood-frequency analysis to assess trajectories of channel change and interpret causative mechanisms.
Downstream- and upstream-propagating disturbances caused episodes of channel-bed incision and aggradation
at different locations for distinct time periods along both rivers. Incision associated with upstream dams is detected, but channels are compensated downstream with sediment inputs from lateral channel migration and tributaries. In one case, temporary aggradation along the Brazos River at Waco was likely caused by a combination of
dam construction and regional soil erosion. Channel-bed incision on the lowermost Brazos River is unrelated to
dams, but is associated with instream aggregate extraction, possibly in conjunction with downstream channelization. On the Sabine River, extensive aggradation during the 1930s might be associated with logging activities
(1880s1930s), but whether the cause is pervasive regional-scale hillslope erosion or local-scale mill-site activities
is indeterminate. Following passage of this sediment, the river generally recovered to pre-disturbance conditions
and has exhibited stability despite a mainstem reservoir. Translation of this sediment slug is attenuated by a
transition to a ood-prone, distributary-dominated system downstream of the HolocenePleistocene terrace
onlap position. Additional ndings include cross-channel hingepoints separating thalweg incision from simultaneous point-bar or bank accretion at meander bends, which indicates channel adjustment occurs along noncohesive beds in preference to cohesive or articially reinforced banks. Also, ood reduction has resulted in
bankfull stages that are higher than levels associated with the post-regulation 2-year return period. Finally,
vegetation encroachment along banks since the 1970s coupled with reduced ooding along the lower Brazos
River has promoted bank accretion deposits that, when fully developed, serve as morphologic indicators of the
post-regulation 1- to 2-year return period stage.
2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Alluvial river channels are sensitive systems that integrate prevailing
environmental conditions from their drainage basins and can gradually
or rapidly adjust to variables including tectonics, sea-level uctuation,
discharge, sediment load, and a myriad of constraints imposed by
human land use and articial regulation (Knighton, 1998; Schumm,
2005). The wide-ranging spectrum of river channel controls has led to
a vast literature addressing channel adjustment through space and
time (Gregory, 1977; Hickin, 1983; Brookes, 1994; Gurnell and Petts,
1995), notably for rivers affected by human activities (Park, 1977;
Simon, 1989; Gregory, 2006; James et al., 2009a). The implications of
river channel changes to economic development, human health, and
ecological condition are substantial, and include increased ood risk
(Shankman and Samson, 1991; Poesen and Hooke, 1997; Criss and
Tel.: +1 601 266 5423; fax: +1 601 266 6219.
E-mail address: Franklin.Heitmuller@usm.edu.
0169-555X/$ see front matter 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2013.08.020

Shock, 2001; Stover and Montgomery, 2001), aquatic and riparian habitat degradation (Petts, 1987; Brookes, 1994; Annear et al., 2004; Steiger
et al., 2005), and minimized nutrient and contaminant sequestration
(Bukaveckas, 2007; Hupp et al., 2009), among others. Knowledge about
modes of adjustment, rates of change, and the physical mechanisms responsible for change is useful to formulate strategies for channel rehabilitation (Kondolf and Larson, 1995; Tiegs and Pohl, 2005), manage uvial
systems (Brierley and Fryirs, 2005; Gregory et al., 2008), engineer or
mitigate problematic reaches (Patrick et al., 1982; Gilvear, 1999), and
possibly predict channel form (Hooke and Redmond, 1989).
1.1. Channel change concepts
River channel changes are induced by pulse- or ramp-style disturbances (Brunsden and Thornes, 1979), in which the former are characterized by brief, high magnitude events (e.g., 100-year oods) that are
usually followed by a period of recovery (Gupta and Fox, 1974; Pitlick
and Thorne, 1987) and the latter constitute an enduring change to

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

environmental conditions through space and time (e.g., climate change,


urbanization). Ramped disturbances and associated channel changes
occur across long-term (103104 years), historical (101103 years),
and short-term (101100 years) timeframes (Schumm and Lichty,
1965; Macklin et al., 1998). Traditionally, geomorphologists have investigated climate (e.g., Knox, 1983; Bull, 1991; Starkel, 1995; Blum, 2007),
tectonics (e.g., Harbor et al., 1994; Boyd and Schumm, 1995), and sea
level (e.g., Blum and Aslan, 2006) for long-term controls of channel
change; human impacts for historical change (e.g., Urban and Rhoads,
2003; Surian et al., 2009; James et al., 2009b); and ood or seasonal
pulses for short-term investigations (e.g., Knighton, 1977; Gilvear and
Harrison, 1991; Goff and Ashmore, 1994; Fuller, 2007, 2008; Bowen
and Juracek, 2011). Notably, an abundance of research has documented
human-induced channel change during the last few centuries (e.g.,
Leopold, 1973; Knox, 1977; Van Urt and Smit, 1989; James, 1991;
Graf, 2001, 2006), and collectively highlights channel adjustments to
forest clearance, agriculture, urbanization, dams, and ow regulation.
1.2. Historical channel changes
Investigations of historical channel adjustments to human impacts
have employed various approaches to quantify patterns and rates of
change, primarily focusing on planform (Lewin, 1977) and crosssectional (Park, 1977, 1995) dimensions. Most geomorphic research on
river channel change has utilized historical documents, maps, aerial
photos, and satellite images to analyze planform adjustments in Europe,
North America, and Australia (e.g., Brewer and Lewin, 1998; Warner,
2000; Winterbottom, 2000; Pit, 2002; Surian and Rinaldi, 2003;
Joeckel and Henebry, 2008; Comiti et al., 2011; Michalkov et al., 2011).
Similar efforts have recently emerged for large rivers in Asia and South
America (e.g., Goswami et al., 1999; Amsler et al., 2005; Li et al., 2007;
Takagi et al., 2007). In North America, most planform change evaluations
consider adjustments downstream from major reservoirs or diversions,
which commonly include lateral erosion in humid, temperate zones
(Wellmeyer et al., 2005; Draut et al., 2011) and channel narrowing and
simplication in semiarid to arid zones (Everitt, 1993; Van Steeter and
Pitlick, 1998; Tiegs and Pohl, 2005; Joeckel and Henebry, 2008;
Swanson et al., 2011).
Relative to channel pattern assessments, considerably fewer investigations have utilized cross-sectional data to analyze historical river channel changes, although Gregory (2006) noted that channel changes are
most evident from the cross-sectional perspective. In part, this is because
eld investigations of channel morphology have not been designed for
long-term monitoring (Sear and Newson, 2003). Some exceptions are
noted in the literature that have utilized historical cross-sectional data
to detect wholescale (e.g., Rinaldi and Simon, 1998; Gomez et al., 2007;
Kiss et al., 2008; Ta et al., 2008), spatially limited (e.g., Musselman,
2011), or complex (e.g., Leopold, 1973; Richards and Greenhalgh,
1984; Phillips et al., 2005; Zawiejska and Wyga, 2010) adjustments
through time. Although survey measurements are preferable and permit
accurate computations of channel shape, others have utilized repeat
ground-based photography (e.g., Frankl et al., 2011) to document
cross-sectional adjustments.
1.3. Streamow gauging data
Whereas few geomorphic monitoring programs have been
established, streamow monitoring is commonplace and requires data
relevant to reconstruct historical cross sections. Measurements of
incremental width, depth, and velocity across a channel are made
throughout the year and, if measurements span the channel bed and
banks along a consistent transect through time and the elevation
datum is documented, then historical cross sections can be rendered
(Juracek and Fitzpatrick, 2008). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is
the primary agency responsible for streamow monitoring in the
United States and has operated thousands of gauging stations since

383

1889. Discharge measurement summaries (including water-surface


width, mean depth, and mean velocity) are publicly accessible on the internet (U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, 2011), but measurements of incremental width, depth, and velocity across the channel are only available
on archived, hard-copy eld notes present in USGS ofces or the Federal
Archives.
1.4. Purpose and scope
River restoration and rehabilitation programs benet from historical
channel change assessments because knowledge of previous physical
conditions, whether natural or impaired, permits establishment of targets for successful project implementation (Kondolf and Micheli, 1995;
Palmer et al., 2005). This article documents and interprets historical,
primarily twentieth century, cross-sectional and planform channel adjustments along the lower Brazos and Sabine Rivers in south-central
USA, through analyses of USGS streamow-measurement records, aerial
photographs, repeat ground photography, and ood frequency. This
work supports the Texas Instream Flow Program, mandated by the
Texas Legislature in 2001 to ensure a sound ecological environment in
priority river segments. To date, this program has embraced an instream
ow approach emphasizing restoration of a natural ow regime to
mitigate against negative ecological consequences of ow regulation.
Therefore, historical data, such as those presented here, will likely be
compared to eventual outcomes achieved through implementation of
ow schedules.
2. Brazos and Sabine Rivers, south-central USA
The Brazos and Sabine Rivers mostly traverse Texas, and the Sabine
River is a boundary between Texas and Louisiana (Fig. 1). The Brazos
River drainage basin (118,350 km2) extends from the semiarid High
Plains to the western Gulf Coastal Plain. Small, ephemeral drainage
channels (draws) in the High Plains are hydrologically disconnected
from the downstream tributary network where baseow combines
with increasingly humid conditions to produce perennial streamow.
Flood-control reservoirs in the upper and middle zones of the basin,
including Lake Whitney and Lake Waco, regulate ow downstream of
Waco.
The Sabine River drainage basin (25,540 km2) extends from the
Blackland Prairie east of Dallas to the Gulf Coastal Plain. The climate is
humid subtropical, with precipitation generally increasing toward the
Gulf of Mexico. The Sabine River headwaters are impounded by a series
of reservoirs that regulate ows in the upper basin, and the Toledo Bend
Reservoir on the mainstem channel regulates ows to the lower river.
None of the reservoirs in the Sabine River basin are designed for ood
control, and therefore, overbank ows are not completely impeded.
The lower Brazos and Sabine Rivers meander within the gently
sloped western Gulf Coastal Plain, which is separated into three geomorphic subdivisions: (i) Texas Blackland Prairies, (ii) Interior Plains,
and (iii) Coastal Prairie (Hudson and Heitmuller, 2008). The Blackland
Prairies are characterized by outcrops of upper Cretaceous shale,
chalk, and marl that deliver ne-grained silt and clay to stream channels. The Interior Plains include southeast-dipping, Tertiary-aged beds
of alternating shale and sandstone. Finally, the Coastal Prairie is dened
by gently dipping Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene sands and muds
of uvial, deltaic, and marginal marine origins. Late Pleistocene terrace
and Holocene oodplain deposits along river channels intersect older
sedimentary surfaces.
2.1. Lower Brazos River
The Brazos River enters the Gulf Coastal Plain at Waco and ows
~625 km to the Gulf of Mexico near Freeport. Dimensionless channel
slope ranges from 0.00030 near Waco to 0.00015 near Rosharon, and
bed composition changes downstream from mixed sand and gravel to

384

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

Fig. 1. Map of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) streamow-gauging stations assessed for historical channel adjustments and hydrology along the lower Brazos and Sabine Rivers in the southcentral USA.

mostly sand. The alluvial valley commonly ranges between 5 and 10 km


wide, but locally contracts to b5 km where resistant margins occur. A
transition to a relatively ne-grained, aggradational, avulsive alluvialdeltaic plain occurs about 70 km northwest of Freeport (Sylvia and
Galloway, 2006; Taha and Anderson, 2008).

The earliest major regulation along the Brazos River upstream of the
study area is Possum Kingdom Lake, impounded in 1941, but the creation of Lake Whitney in 1951 resulted in substantial declines in water
volumes to Waco. Since 1951, the mean daily discharge at Waco has
slightly decreased from 73 to 63 m3/s (Table 1), whereas a considerable

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

385

Table 1
Hydrologic data (period of record through February 2008) for the lower Brazos River and selected tributaries and the lower Sabine River, Texas, USA. [Q, discharge; m3/s, cubic meters per
second].
USGS
streamow-gauging
station

Period of record

Major regulating
reservoir and date
of impoundment

Pre-regulation
daily mean
Q (m3/s)

Post-regulation
daily mean
Q (m3/s)

08026000 Sabine River


near Burkeville

Sept. 1955Feb. 2008

131

163

24.4

776

960

23.7

08028500 Sabine River


near Bon Wier

Oct. 1923Feb. 2008

194

198

2.1

1050

1030

1.9

08030500 Sabine River


near Ruliff

Oct. 1924Feb. 2008

238

232

2.5

1230

1180

4.1

08096500 Brazos River


at Waco
08106500 Little River
near Cameron
08109000 Brazos River
near Bryana

Oct. 1898Feb. 2008

Toledo Bend
Reservoir;
Oct. 3, 1966
Toledo Bend
Reservoir;
Oct. 3, 1966
Toledo Bend
Reservoir;
Oct. 3, 1966
Lake Whitney;
Dec. 5, 1951
Belton Lake;
Mar. 8, 1954
Lake Whitney;
Dec. 5, 1951

73

63

13.7

1810

813

55.1

50

51

2.0

1590

838

47.3

159

144

9.4

2160

1440

33.3

12

12

473

501

5.9

15

17

13.3

378

494

30.7

210

197

6.2

1940

1480

23.7

218

213

2.3

1790

1480

17.3

08110500 Navasota
River near Easterly
08111000 Navasota
River near Bryanb
08111500 Brazos River
near Hempstead
08114000 Brazos River
at Richmond
a
b

Nov. 1916Feb. 2008


Aug. 1899Dec. 1902;
Mar. 1918Dec. 1925;
July 1926Feb. 2008
Apr. 1924Feb. 2008
Jan. 1951Feb. 2008
Oct. 1938Feb. 2008
Jan. 1903June 1906;
Oct. 1922Feb. 2008

Lake Limestone;
Oct. 16, 1978
Lake Limestone;
Oct. 16, 1978
Lake Whitney;
Dec. 5, 1951
Lake Whitney;
Dec. 5, 1951

Percent
difference
(daily mean Q)

Pre-regulation
mean annual
maximum
Q (m3/s)

Post-regulation
mean annual
maximum
Q (m3/s)

Percent difference
(mean annual
maximum Q)

Period of record combined with 08108700 Brazos River at State Highway 21 near Bryan and applied to post-impoundment statistics.
Period of record combined with 08110800 Navasota River at Old Spanish Road near Bryan and applied to post-impoundment statistics.

decrease of the mean annual peak discharge from 1810 to 813 m3/s reects ood control. Downstream of Waco, the Brazos River has three
important tributaries, the Little River (19,710 km2), Yegua Creek
(3440 km2), and the Navasota River (5850 km2). Although the lower
Brazos River is not interrupted by a reservoir, the three tributaries are
extensively impounded. Following the 1954 closure of Belton Lake for
ood control, the mean daily discharge of the Little River at Cameron
remained the same (50 m3/s), whereas the mean annual peak discharge
was reduced by over 47%. In addition to Belton Lake, three other oodcontrol reservoirs have been created in the Little River subbasin since
1954 and have decreased ooding. The Robinson Dam that created
Lake Limestone on the Navasota River in 1978 was not designed for
ood control. Subsequent to its construction, the mean daily discharge
of the Navasota River near Bryan increased by 2 m3/s while the mean
annual peak discharge increased by 30.7%, the latter explained by inclusion of drought years in the 1950s. Further downstream, the mean daily
discharge of the Brazos River at Richmond mostly remains unaffected by
upstream regulations, although a 17.3% reduction in mean annual peak
discharge after 1951 reects upstream ood-control reservoirs.
The lower Brazos River basin extends through three level III
ecoregions (Grifth et al., 2004): (i) Texas Blackland Prairies, (ii) Eastcentral Texas Plains, and (iii) Western Gulf Coastal Plain. These
ecoregions support a natural mix of open grasslands, savanna-type
oak woodlands, and coastal marsh. Most of the grasslands have been
converted to rangeland and agricultural elds in the basin; and areas
of urbanization include the Waco, BryanCollege Station, and Houston
metropolitan areas. Direct anthropogenic impacts on the river include
instream sand mining documented between Hempstead and Rosharon
(Dunn and Raines, 2001) and dredging associated with a shipping channel constructed in 1929 at Freeport, which diverts all streamow away
from the former river mouth.
2.2. Lower Sabine River
The lower Sabine River ows ~225 km from Toledo Bend Reservoir to
Sabine Lake, a Gulf Coast estuary. Dimensionless slope of the sand-bed

channel ranges from 0.00015 near Burkeville to 0.00010 near Ruliff.


The alluvial valley, including terraces, ranges between 5 and 10 km wide.
Toledo Bend Reservoir was impounded in October 1966 for hydroelectricity production and water supply, but not ood control. The
mean daily and mean annual maximum discharges near Bon Wier and
Ruliff, located downstream, have remained nearly constant following
impoundment (Table 1).
The lower Sabine River basin extends through two level III ecoregions
(Grifth et al., 2004): (i) South-central Plains and (ii) Western Gulf
Coastal Plain. These ecoregions support extensive forests, riparian bottomlands, coastal prairies, and estuarine marshes. The timber industry
actively clears and replaces forest in the basin, whereas ranching and agriculture are not as widespread relative to the lower Brazos River basin.
Furthermore, no large urban centers occur in the basin.
3. Data and methods
Various data and methods were used to characterize historical channel adjustments in the study areas (Table 2). Cross-sectional data are
analyzed for both rivers. Historical aerial and ground photographs are
analyzed along the Brazos River only.
3.1. Cross-sectional adjustments
Archival, hard-copy discharge measurement notes constitute the
primary data source for re-constructing historical cross sections. Individual moderate or large discharge measurements at each gauging station were selected to (i) render at least one cross section approximately
every 10 years when possible (although temporal gaps occur at some
stations) and (ii) be of sufcient magnitude to include channel banks,
but not so severe that measurement errors or scour-and-ll behavior reduces accuracy. Measurement notes from the 1980s to 2007 were
obtained from USGS ofces in Austin and Houston, and older records
were recalled from the Federal Archives in Fort Worth, TX. For a few stations, periods of record recalled from the Archives were not obtained.

386

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

Table 2
Summary of time periods for cross-sectional and planform data used to analyze historical channel geometry along the lower Brazos and Sabine Rivers in Texas and Louisiana, USA.
USGS streamow-gauging station

Hydrologic period of record

Period(s) of cross-sectional
data used in this study

Year of historical aerial


photograph

Year of contemporary
orthoimagery

08026000 Sabine River near Burkeville


08028500 Sabine River near Bon Wier
08030500 Sabine River near Ruliff
08096500 Brazos River at Waco
08098290 Brazos River near Highbank
08109000 Brazos River near Bryanb

Sept. 1955present
Oct. 1923present
Oct. 1924present
Oct. 1898present
Oct. 1965present
Aug. 1899Dec. 1902;
Mar. 1918Dec. 1925;
July 1926present
Oct. 1938present
Jan. 1903June 1906;
Oct. 1922present
April 1967present

19562001
19322005
19601999
19252002
19722004
19612007

2006
2006
2006
2004
2005
2006

08111500 Brazos River near Hempstead


08114000 Brazos River at Richmond
08116650 Brazos River near Rosharon
a
b

a
a

1981
1960
1957

19391960; 19802000
19341958; 19861998

1952

2006
2005

19672000

1958

2005

Photograph not obtained for this study.


Period of record combined with 08108700 Brazos River at State Highway 21 near Bryan.

However, a more thorough search at the facility might have revealed


them, which would fully extend the record for those stations.
Data digitized from the measurement notes include the weighted
mean gauge height (m) (i.e., water-surface stage during the measurement), horizontal distance across the channel (m), and corresponding
depth (m). For all sites, height values are associated with a gaugespecic, arbitrary vertical datum (m). Long-term gauging stations are
commonly switched to a new vertical datum, such as when a new bridge
is constructed or channel incision results in negative stage values; and
the date and vertical adjustment are documented in USGS station description records. These arbitrary vertical changes must be accounted
for to correct and compare cross sections before and after the switch to
a new datum (Juracek and Fitzpatrick, 2008; Heitmuller, 2011). The horizontal section distance (m) is measured from a standard reference point
along one side of a bridge or cableway where measurements are consistently made but is also periodically switched. These horizontal shifts
must be accounted for to ensure appropriate comparison of cross sections. After making vertical corrections and ensuring that measurements
were made along one consistent transect through time, the channel cross
section is rendered by subtracting the ow depth from the weighted
mean gauge height at each horizontal section location.
Several other precautions should be considered to accurately interpret cross-sectional channel adjustment and potentially extrapolate to a
longer channel reach, including bridge-induced hydraulics, construction,
boundary composition, valley width, and scour-and-ll behavior. Most of
the sites in this study occur at bridges, and abutments and pilings promote articial hydraulic processes that affect cross-sectional geometry.
Further, articial bank reinforcement structures control aspects of channel geometry where they occur. Thus, channel shape at bridges is not
fully representative of reaches distant from the structure. Nevertheless,
channel disturbances and process tendencies unrelated to bridge effects
can be detected if the structure is static through time (i.e., not renovated
or reconstructed). Bridge construction activities were accounted for by
consulting the U.S. National Bridge Inventory (Nationalbridges.com,
2011) and other interpretive precautions are further described in
Heitmuller and Greene (2009) and Heitmuller (2011).
Alongside streamow measurement notes, USGS gauging-station
records also commonly include historical ground photographs of
the channel. A number of these photos were selected for repeatphotography assessment (see Webb and Hereford, 2010; Frankl et al.,
2011) along the Brazos River, and contemporary photos were taken in
2008. Information was not available about the focal length or other optical parameters of the historical ground photos. Therefore, attempts
were not made to ensure precise replication, and repeat photos were
simply shot from approximately the same location and orientation as
the historical photos.

3.2. Planform adjustments


The USGS gauging-station records for study sites along the Brazos
River included a historical aerial photograph, and these were digitally
scanned and rectied in ArcGIS 9.3. The aerial photos were compared
to contemporary National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP)
orthoimages, and total migration of meander bend apexes was measured to compute time-averaged migration rates; thus, two images
per site precludes an opportunity to discern between gradual adjustments and punctuated, event-based migration episodes. Additionally,
other aspects of landscape change including meander-bend cutoffs,
avulsions, and vegetation clearance and growth patterns were used
to assist interpretations of channel adjustments through time.
3.3. Flood frequency
Discharges corresponding to the 2- and 5-year return periods at each
site were evaluated using annual peak discharge values in the software
PeakFQ for Windows, Ver. 5.2 (Flynn et al., 2006). Water-surface stages
associated with the discharge values were determined from the
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) (2013) WaterWatch website.
4. Results and interpretation
For the results below, reference to the left and right banks implies a
downstream-oriented perspective. Values provided for adjustments to
channel-bed elevations or channel bank positions are visually inferred
from cross section gures.
4.1. Lower Brazos River
Results at one site, Brazos River near Bryan (08109000), are coupled
with a nearby gauging station because it was relocated in the 1990s.
Drainage area values are contributing areas, which neglect closed
playa depressions in the uppermost drainage basin. Channel width
values include nonvegetated, point-bar surfaces.
4.1.1. Brazos River at Waco
The Brazos River at Waco gauge (08096500) (51,780 km2) has a long
period of record (1898present) and occurs within an urban area. Three
different measurement locations from the 1920s to present including,
in downstream order, bridges at Washington Avenue (Fig. 2B), La Salle
Avenue (Fig. 2C), and Texas Loop 340 (Fig. 2D) complicate a
continuous evaluation of cross-sectional adjustment through time. The
La Salle Avenue and Loop 340 bridges were constructed in 1961 and
1984, respectively. Furthermore, a low-ow dam constructed 0.5 km

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

387

12

974'W

973'30"W

973'W
EXPLANATION

08096500
Brazos River at Waco
gauging station

1981
2004

TX

Lo
op
34
0

11

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

3131'30"N

3132'N

A 974'30"W

To
Washington
Street & La
Salle Avenue
Bridges

Flow direction

A
UTM Zone 14N
NAD 1983

250

500

750

1,000 METERS

5-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (18991951) (2,560 m3/s)

APPROXIMATE STAGE IN 1922

10
9
2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (18991951) (1,440 m3/s)
APPROXIMATE STAGE IN 1925

8
7
6
5

BRIDGE

4
5/9/1925
9/30/1936
4/26/1942
5/18/1949
10/5/1959
5/4/1966

3
2
1
0
200

INITIAL CHANNEL-BED
AGGRADATION;
SUBSEQUENT INCISION

175

150

125

100

75

50

25

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM RIGHT


7

10

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (650 m3/s)

BANK EROSION

5
4
3
2
1
0
-1
-2
-3
-4
50

BRIDGE
11/11/1971
4/20/1977
10/21/1981
3/17/1998
2/20/2001
5/30/2002

INITIAL CHANNEL-BED
AGGRADATION;
SUBSEQUENT INCISION

9
8

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (8.23 m)


APPROXIMATE STAGE OF 5-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (1,140 m3/s)

7
2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (650 m3/s)

6
5
4

BANK
ACCRETION

3
2

BRIDGE

12/24/1986
6/13/1987
6/21/1989
12/28/1991
4/24/1995

CHANNEL-BED
INCISION

-1
-2

75

100

125

150

175

200

22

250

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT

25

50

75

100

125

150

175

200

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT

Fig. 2. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Brazos River at Waco (USGS 08096500). (A) Planform adjustments downstream of the Loop 340 bridge (19812004). (B) Crosssectional adjustments at the Washington Avenue bridge (19251966). (C) Cross-sectional adjustments at the La Salle Avenue bridge (19712002). (D) Cross-sectional adjustments at the
Loop 340 bridge (19861995).

downstream of La Salle Avenue in 1970 forms Lake Brazos, a narrow


(~120-m), ponded waterbody extending ~8 km upstream. Cross sections at Washington Avenue between 1925 and 1942 showed considerable deposition along the left bank and channel-bed aggradation (N2 m),
which was followed by incision to the former bed elevation by the late
1950s and stability thereafter. Cross sections at La Salle Avenue, located
at Lake Brazos, showed progressive deposition along the bed (0.6 m)
and left bank from 1971 to about 1980, followed by progressive bed incision (1.8 m) and left bank erosion to 2002. Cross sections at Loop
340, downstream of Lake Brazos, generally showed channel-bed incision
(0.8 m) and right bank accretion from 1986 to 1995.
Two meander bends occurring 1.5 (A) and 3.2 km (B) downstream
of Loop 340 were assessed for planform change using a historical aerial
photo (1981) and 2004 orthoimagery (Fig. 2A). Although no change is
detected along the straight reach immediately downstream of the
gauging station, meander A migrated 35 m, or an average of 1.5 m/y, a
relatively slow rate consistent with ndings of Gillespie and Giardino
(1997) along the river. Vegetation growth on the point bar suggests a
slight decrease in channel width from 240 to 229 m at the meander
apex. Meander B migrated 100 m, or an average of about 4.3 m/y. The
development of a chute channel across the point bar, coupled with the
meander migration, has resulted in a channel width increase from 230
to 290 m at the apex.
The complex series of historical adjustments along the Brazos River at
Waco is interpreted to derive from multiple disturbances, none of which
were induced by impoundment of Lake Whitney in 1951. Channel-bed

aggradation between the 1920s and 1940s is likely attributed to


sediment contributions associated with (i) dam construction for Lake
Waco (completed in 1929), a reservoir along a major tributary (Bosque
River) only 11 km upstream of the Washington Avenue bridge and (ii)
poor agricultural land conservation practices. Dam construction involved
clearing, excavation, and landlling activities, which are known to contribute large volumes of sediment to downstream channels (Wolman,
1967; Leopold, 1973). The subsequent incision was facilitated by high
ow events in 1942, 1944, and 1945 coupled with reduced sediment
loads. Following the passage of this sediment slug, the next series of
channel adjustments, recorded at La Salle Avenue, are associated with
the 1970 impoundment of Lake Brazos. Here, a progressive increase in
channel width and cross-sectional area is attributed to sediment entrapment along the upper reaches of the small reservoir coupled with bed
degradation and erosion of the permanently saturated left bank during
high ows in the narrow waterbody. Finally, channel-bed incision at
the Loop 340 bridge between 1986 and 1995 is explained by entrapment
of bed material behind the Lake Brazos dam.
4.1.2. Brazos River near Highbank
The Brazos River near Highbank gauge (08098290) (54,050 km2)
has been monitored for streamow from a bridge since 1965 and occurs
along a straight reach in a rural area. The bridge was constructed in
1955, and channel-bed sediment thinly overlies shale bedrock. Cross
sections between 1972 and 2004 showed slight channel-bed incision
(0.4 m) and consistent channel symmetry through time (Fig. 3B).

388

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398


9650'W

(7.7 km upstream), has a long collective period of record (1899present)


and measurements at the old station were made across a cableway,
thereby nullifying bridge-induced hydraulics at that site. Unfortunately,
hard-copy measurement data prior to the 1960s were not obtained. The
gauging station was moved to the State Highway 21 bridge following its
construction in 1986. Cross sections between 1961 and 1987 suggest
channel-bed incision (1.0 m) (Fig. 4B), especially for moderate ows
with less temporary scour. Adjustments to channel symmetry, however,
are more apparent, including ~3 m of vertical accretion along the right
bank. As a result of bed incision, cross-sectional area below a stage of

3
FM 1

EXPLANATION
1960
2005

318'N

73

08098290
Brazos River
near Highbank
gauging station

FM

41

Flow direction

317'N

A 9631'W

9629'W

9630'W

To 08108700 gauging station (2.5 km)

EXPLANATION

UTM Zone 14N


NAD 1983

1957
2006

250 500 750 1,000 METERS

Flow direction

3037'N

B
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (10.67 m)
2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1966PRESENT) (752 m3/s) (5.30 m)

F
E

08109000
Brazos River near Bryan
gauging station

1/11/1972
2/3/1975
6/29/1976
6/3/1986
6/5/1987
3/31/1993
2/19/1997
2/20/2001
4/28/2004

CHANNEL-BED
INCISION

25

50

75

100

125

150

175

1,200 1,600 METERS

12

200

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT


Fig. 3. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Brazos River near Highbank
(USGS 08098290). (A) Planform adjustments along the gauged reach (19602005).
(B) Cross-sectional adjustments at the measurement location (19722004).

Two meander bends occurring 0.5 km upstream (C) and 1.5 km


downstream (D) of the bridge were assessed for planform change
using a historical aerial photo (1960) and 2005 orthoimagery (Fig. 3A).
Meander C migrated 220 m, or an average of 4.9 m/y; and meander D
migrated 250 m, or an average of 5.6 m/y. Vegetation has encroached
point bars of both meander bends. As a supplement to these data, historical ground photos from 1964 to 1965 were compared to repeat photos
from 2008. In general, the 2008 photos showed denser vegetation on
the banks and possibly steeper bank slopes upstream of the bridge.
The straight reach at the gauging station results in a symmetrical
channel shape. Minor channel-bed incision indicates a degradational
trend. Sediment entrapment in upstream reservoirs, including Lake
Brazos and Lake Waco, likely reduces sediment delivery to this river
segment. Shale bedrock in the channel bed, coupled with sediment inputs from meander migration in the area, prevents excessive incision.
Increased vegetation density observed in photographs indicates a shift
in rural land use management along the riparian corridor, possibly because (i) water infrastructure for livestock, including wells and tanks,
has lessened the need to directly access the river and/or (ii) upstream
ood-control infrastructure has lessened the need to clear channel
banks as a means to efciently convey oods downstream.
4.1.3. Brazos River near Bryan
The Brazos River near Bryan gauge (08109000) (77,570 km2),
coupled with the new gauging station on State Highway 21 (08108700)

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

-1
0

UTM Zone 14N


NAD 1983
0
400
800

BRIDGE

11

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (1,190 m3/s)

10
9
8
7

BANK
EROSION

6
5

BANK
ACCRETION

CABLEWAY

1/10/1961
5/3/1962
2/27/1968
6/19/1973
11/6/1974
2/25/1977
5/22/1985
6/15/1987

2
1
0
-1

THALWEG
INCISION

-2
-3
-4

25

50

75

100

125

150

175

200

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT


14
13

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

12

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (13.11 m)

11
2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (1,190 m3/s)

10
9
8
7
6
5

BRIDGE

4
3

6/16/1992
7/7/1993
10/7/1998
12/28/2000
3/4/2004
5/29/2007

2
1
0
-1
-2
40 50

HIGH-FLOW
SCOUR

75

100

125

150

175

200

225

240

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT


Fig. 4. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Brazos River near Bryan (USGS
08109000 and 08108700). (A) Planform adjustments along the gauged reach
(19572006). (B) Cross-sectional adjustments at the cableway location (08109000)
(19611987). (C) Cross-sectional adjustments at the State Highway 21 bridge
(08108700) (19922007).

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

3 m increased from about 150 m2 in 1962 to 185 m2 in 1985. However,


bank accretion has compensated for this at high stages, even when considering about 5 m of left bank erosion. Cross sections at the new gauging
station indicate symmetry along a relatively straight reach and stability
for 15 years, although temporary scour-and-ll behavior is evident for
high ows.
Two meander bends occurring 2.7 km (E) and 0.6 km upstream (F),
and one meander bend occurring 1.1 km downstream (G) of the old
gauging station were assessed for planform change using a historical
aerial photo (1957) and 2006 orthoimagery (Fig. 4A). Meander E adjusted from a single bend to a broader, compound-lobed conguration. The
southwesterly oriented lobe migrated 230 m and the southeasterly
oriented lobe migrated 280 m, or an average of 4.7 and 5.7 m/y, respectively. The adjacent meander F extended 100 m, or an average of
2.0 m/y. Finally, meander G has not migrated, but vegetation encroached
the left point-bar surface and suggests a channel width decrease from
160 to 80 m, or an average of 1.6 m/y, a trajectory that is observed at
other meander bends along this channel reach (Gillespie and Giardino,
1997). As a supplement to these data, historical ground photos from
1954 to 1971 were compared to repeat photos from 2008. In general,
the 2008 photos show relatively steep, densely vegetated banks and a
vertically accreted oodplain compared to the barren slopes in 1954.
The most notable morphologic adjustments to this reach include
lateral channel migration, substantial bank accretion, and channel
narrowing. Based on evidence from historical photographs, vegetation
encroachment has likely resulted in sediment entrapment along banks

9611'W

during high ows. The limited amount of bed incision, despite being an
easily erodible substrate as evidenced by scour-and-ll behavior, is
explained by sediment supply from (i) moderate rates of channel migration in the area and (ii) progressive channel-bed degradation of the Little
River (Heitmuller and Greene, 2009), a major upstream tributary that has
delivered additional sediment to the reach. Therefore, the Brazos River
from Bryan to downstream locations is presently insulated from the reduction of sediment loads by reservoirs upstream.
4.1.4. Brazos River near Hempstead
The Brazos River near Hempstead gauge (08111500) (88,870 km2)
has a long period of record (1938present), although measurement locations have frequently changed. In 1949, the measurement location
was moved from a bridge to a nearby cableway. Measurements were
re-located again in 1974 following construction of a new bridge. Other
complications with continuity result from measurements made from
both the upstream and downstream sides of the 1974 bridge. Additionally, eld measurement data for the 1960s and 1970s were not obtained.
Cross sections between 1939 and 1949 indicate substantial adjustments, including simultaneous right-bank accretion (3 m) and about
2.5 m of thalweg incision on the left side of the channel (Fig. 5B). In addition to the incision, the lower section of the left channel bank
retreated by about 35 m while the upper part accreted about 15 m,
resulting in an increasingly steep terrace scarp. The rapid nature of
right bank accretion combined with the near-vertical dropoff to the
thalweg indicates an articial origin, such as stabilization efforts along

9610'W

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

EXPLANATION

308'N

309'N

2006

US 290

08111500
Brazos River
near Hempstead
gauging station

307'N

Flow direction

400

389

UTM Zone 14N


NAD 1983
800 1,200 1,600 METERS

14
13
12
11
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
-1
-2
-3
-4
100

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE


FLOOD STAGE (15.24 m)

UPPER BANK
ACCRETION

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (1,270 m3/s)

BANK
ACCRETION
(ARTIFICIAL?)

LOWER BANK
EROSION
HINGEPOINT?

BANK
ACCRETION
(ARTIFICIAL?)

BRIDGE

THALWEG INCISION

1/14/1939
12/2/1940
10/8/1945
3/13/1946
5/21/1949

125

ADDITIONAL
INCISION?;
HIGH-FLOW
SCOUR?

150

175

200

225

250

275

300

14
13
12
11
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE


FLOOD STAGE (15.24 m)

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (1,270 m /s)

BANK
ACCRETION

CABLEWAY

0
-1
-2
-3
-4
25

2/13/1950
6/13/1950
5/5/1956
5/14/1956
10/8/1959
2/1/1960

50

INITIAL THALWEG
AGGRADATION;
SUBSEQUENT INCISION

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT

THALWEG SHIFT TO RIGHT

75

100

125

150

175

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT

200

225

14
13
12
11
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
-1
-2
-3
-4
100

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE


FLOOD STAGE (15.24 m)

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (1,270 m3/s)

BANK
ACCRETION

BRIDGE
2/13/1980
6/17/1981
1/9/1985
6/17/1987
11/6/2000

THALWEG
INCISION
HINGEPOINT

125

150

175

200

225

250

275

300

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT

Fig. 5. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Brazos River near Hempstead (USGS 08111500). (A) Map of the channel near the gauging station (2006 position). (B) Crosssectional adjustments at the old bridge (19391949). (C) Cross-sectional adjustments at the cableway immediately upstream of the bridge (19501960). (D) Cross-sectional adjustments
at the new bridge (19802000).

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

4.1.5. Brazos River at Richmond


The Brazos River at Richmond gauge (08114000) (92,050 km2) has
been consistently monitored since 1922, and measurements were
made from a cableway until 1957 when the transect was relocated
82 m upstream to the U.S. Highway 90 bridge. Unfortunately, measurement data for the 1960s and 1970s were not obtained. Cross sections
between 1934 and 1957 show cutbank erosion associated with meander
migration, minor uctuations in bed elevation, and lower left bank
accretion coinciding with minor thalweg incision (Fig. 6B). A subtle
hingepoint separates opposite trajectories along the channel bed. Cross
sections between 1957 and 1998 continue to show cutbank erosion,
but stabilization measures in the early 1990s reduced channel width
and coincided with ~2 m of bed incision (Fig. 6C).
One meander bend occurring upstream of the station (H) was
assessed for planform change using a historical aerial photo (1952)
and 2005 orthoimagery (Fig. 6A). Vegetation encroachment, possibly
coupled with bank-stabilization efforts, on the right point bar suggests
a decrease in channel width by about 20 m, or an average rate of
0.38 m/y. Additionally, the lower section of the bend migrated to the
left by about 60 m, or an average of 1.1 m/y. Although meander H has

9547'W

9546'W

9545'W

9544'W
EXPLANATION
1952

2936'N

2005

Flow direction

ad

ilro

Ra
H

US

2935'N

08114000
Brazos River
at Richmond
gauging station

90

UTM Zone 15N


NAD 1983
500 1,000 1,500 2,000 METERS

16

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

the right margin of the thalweg. Hydraulic forces during high ows
were concentrated in a smaller cross-sectional area, resulting in incision
into the erodible sandy bed and lower left bank erosion. Cross sections
between 1950 and 1960 show an initial phase of thalweg aggradation
(2 m) followed by incision (2.5 m) to a slightly lower elevation, which
is complemented by erosion of the lower left bank and 2 m of upper
left bank accretion (Fig. 5C). Finally, cross sections between 1980 and
2000 indicate a well-developed hingepoint separating 1.5 m of thalweg
incision and 2.5 m of vertical accretion on the right bank (Fig. 5D).
Articial reinforcement of the right bank has prevented its erosion
and likely promoted thalweg incision.
As a supplement to these data, historical ground photos from 1975
were compared to repeat photos from 2008. Although not as obvious
here as upstream near Highbank and Bryan, the photos generally
show denser vegetation along the channel banks and adjacent oodplain surfaces.
Despite the discontinuities at this station, some interpretations can
be made. Articial modications to the right bank in the 1940s resulted
in a substantial shift in cross-sectional shape. Subsequently, channelbed aggradation along the cableway transect in the early- and mid1950s coincided with a severe drought in central Texas. Reduced high
ows, coupled with extensive riparian clearance during this period
(Dunn and Raines, 2001; Heitmuller and Greene, 2009), resulted in sediment accumulations in the channel. In May 1957, the drought ended
with the largest ood on record at this station (4050 m3/s), which evacuated the excessive channel-bed material. Finally, the progressive
thalweg degradation since 1980 is probably related to instream sand
and gravel extraction activities reported between Hempstead and
Rosharon (Dunn and Raines, 2001). In other alluvial rivers, instream
mining has resulted in severe channel degradation and upstream propagation of erosional knickpoints (Kondolf, 1994; Rinaldi et al., 2005).
A hingepoint separating bed incision from bank accretion occurs on
the convex side of the meander bend (Fig. 5B and D). The following
sequence is hypothesized during moderate and high ows: (i) the deepened thalweg destabilizes the lowermost, submerged point bar resulting
in its erosion; (ii) the increase in available cross-sectional area further
isolates the upper point-bar surface from erosive, high velocity ows
during bankfull or overbank events; and (iii) bank accretion ensues. Alternatively, vegetation encroachment on the point bar would promote
accretion, thus constraining ow width and resulting in thalweg incision.
There also exists the possibility that a ow-separation zone near the
upper point bar could exacerbate sediment deposition along its surface
(Nanson and Page, 1983). Irrespective of these hypothesized dynamics,
additional examples provided below indicate that hingepoints develop
at meander bends.

15

14
13
12
11

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (14.63 m)

1/23/1934
5/25/1935
5/23/1947
2/2/1948
10/21/1955
5/5/1957

5-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (2,110 m3/s)

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (1,300 m3/s)

10
9

CABLEWAY

LOWER BANK
ACCRETION (BENCH
DEVELOPMENT)

HINGEPOINT

6
5
4

INITIAL THALWEG
AGGRADATION;
SUBSEQUENT INCISION

3
2
1
0
200

BANK
EROSION

175

150

125

100

75

50

25

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM RIGHT


13

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

390

12
11

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE


FLOOD STAGE (14.63 m)

UPPER BANK
ACCRETION

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1952PRESENT) (1,300 m3/s)

10
9
8

8/13/1957
2/26/1958
6/19/1986
1/15/1991
2/23/1993
2/12/1998

BRIDGE

7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
-1
-2
-3
150

CHANNEL-BED INCISION
BANK EROSION;
SUBSEQUENT ARTIFICIAL
REINFORCEMENT

175

20

225

250

275

300

325

350

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT


Fig. 6. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Brazos River at Richmond (USGS
08114000). (A) Planform adjustments along the gauged reach (19522005). (B) Crosssectional adjustments at the cableway (19341957). (C) Cross-sectional adjustments at
the bridge (19571998).

migrated, the extended reach exhibits planform stability. As a supplement to these data, historical ground photos from May and August
1965 were compared to repeat photos from 2008. In general, additional
rip-rap reinforcement on the right bank and slightly more vegetated
oodplains are detected in the 2008 photos.
The cross-sectional adjustments occurring at Richmond are not
easily interpreted because the 1960s and 1970s are not represented
and articial bank-stabilization efforts interrupt any progressive trajectory of change. The development of low bank deposits was separated
from the thalweg by a subtle hingepoint that developed in the 1940s
and 1950s, and vertical point-bar accretion occurred since 1952 at

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

meander H. Based on historic photos, vegetation encroachment partly


explains sediment entrapment on the bank and ts chronologically
with similar conditions upstream. Bed incision during the 1990s was induced by bank stabilization and was possibly exacerbated by instream
aggregate mining (Dunn and Raines, 2001).
4.1.6. Brazos River near Rosharon
The Brazos River near Rosharon gauge (08116650) (92,650 km2) has
been monitored for streamow from a bridge since 1967 and occurs at a
meander bend in a rural area. Cross sections between 1967 and 2000
show progressive thalweg incision (4 m), 25 m of lateral accretion
along the upper left bank, and a distinct hingepoint separating the opposing directions of channel adjustment (Fig. 7B). Below the hingepoint,
cross-sectional area has increased by at least 90 m2, or 67%, since 1967.
Three meander bends occurring 1.0 km upstream (I), at the gauging
station (J), and 0.8 km downstream (K) were assessed for planform
change using a historical aerial photo (1958) and 2005 orthoimagery
(Fig. 7A). The lower half of meander I translated 125 m downstream, or
an average of 2.7 m/y. Meander J similarly translated downstream but
has changed most noticeably by an apparent reduction in width associated with vegetation encroachment. Finally, meander K has migrated 80 m,
or an average of 1.7 m/y. A comparison of the historic photo and contemporary orthoimage reveals lateral migration and vegetation encroachment on point bars and banks. As a supplement to these data, historical
ground photos from 1967 to 1973 were compared to repeat photos

391

from 2008. The repeat photos show vegetation encroachment on both


banks and rip-rap reinforcement on the right bank near the bridge.
Morphologic adjustments along this reach include lateral migration,
bed incision, and vertical accretion of point bars. Migration rates are not
abnormally high, relative to laterally active reaches between Waco and
Hempstead, and probably are representative of rates typical for lowland,
coastal-plain rivers downstream of depositional onlap positions (Phillips
and Slattery, 2008). Bed incision and point-bar accretion have been induced since 1967, and three possible mechanisms are proposed to explain
adjustments: (i) vegetation encroachment, (ii) instream aggregate mining, and/or (iii) upstream propagation of an erosional knickpoint. As observed from historical photos here and upstream, banks and point bars
have been encroached by vegetation since the 1960s, which traps
sediment along channel margins and promotes thalweg incision to compensate for the reduction of cross-sectional area. Relative to similar conditions at upstream stations, however, the incision at Rosharon is greater.
Although additional data are required for conrmation, the incision near
Rosharon might be exacerbated by upstream propagation (84 km) of an
erosional knickpoint associated with the 1929 channelization, and subsequent dredging, of a new straight course for the lowermost 10 km of the
Brazos River at Freeport. Upstream-migrating erosional knickpoints have
been detected along alluvial, coastal-plain rivers where channelization
projects have been implemented (Simon, 1989; Kesel and Yodis, 1992;
Downs and Simon, 2001).
4.2. Lower Sabine River

9535'W

9534'W

No historical aerial or ground photos were located in Sabine River


les and, therefore, cross-sectional adjustments are analyzed from measurement notes only. The Sabine River has an average meander migration rate of 3.6 m/y between Bon Wier and Ruliff (Heo et al., 2009),
which is comparable to the lower Brazos River.

EXPLANATION
1958
2005

2921'N

FM 1462
J
08116650
Brazos River
near Rosharon
gauging station

4.2.1. Sabine River near Burkeville


The Sabine River near Burkeville gauge (08026000) (19,380 km2)
has been monitored for streamow from a bridge since 1955 and occurs
about 24 km downstream from Toledo Bend Reservoir at a meander
bend in a rural area (Fig. 8A). Cross sections between 1956 and 2001
show a slightly asymmetrical channel shape, ~1.5 m of thalweg incision,
vertical point-bar accretion until the 1970s, and subsequent erosion of
the point bar (Fig. 8B). A hingepoint in the center of the channel separates progressive thalweg incision from point-bar adjustments.
Thalweg incision is explained by sediment entrapment in Toledo
Bend Reservoir and is corroborated by Phillips (2003) who documents
a geomorphic transition in this area based on a decrease in slope, increase in valley width, and more favorable downstream conditions for
point-bar development. Point-bar accretion during the late 1950s and
1960s might have been facilitated by dam construction from 1964 to
1966, coupled with hingepoint dynamics at the meander bend. Additional sediment during this period might have come from sedimentladen runoff following severe regional drought in the mid-1950s.

2920'N

Flow direction

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

16
15
14
13
12
11
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
-1
-2
-3
-4
25

UTM Zone 15N


NAD 1983
300 600 900 1,200 METERS

5-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1967PRESENT) (2,040 m3/s)


NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (13.11 m)
2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1967PRESENT) (1,250 m3/s)
BANK ACCRETION

HINGEPOINT

BRIDGE
5/19/1967
7/2/1975
7/27/1976
5/16/1985
6/18/1986
1/31/1997
11/9/2000

50

THALWEG INCISION;
SHIFT TO LEFT

75

100

125

150

175

200

225

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT


Fig. 7. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Brazos River near Rosharon
(USGS 08116650). (A) Planform adjustments along the gauged reach (19582005).
(B) Cross-sectional adjustments at the measurement location (19672000). The 1967
cross section was a topographic survey, not associated with a streamow measurement.

4.2.2. Sabine River near Bon Wier


The Sabine River near Bon Wier gauge (08030500) (21,310 km2)
has a long period of record (1923present), although measurement
continuity was disrupted by bridge construction in 1981 (Fig. 9A).
Cross sections between 1932 and 1976 show a complex sequence of adjustments, including (i) 4 m of thalweg aggradation contemporaneous
with 3 m of point-bar erosion from 1932 to 1940; (ii) development of
a chute channel by 1940; (iii) 4 m of thalweg incision and 1.5 m of
point-bar accretion after 1940; (iv) chute-channel inlling after 1943;
and (v) a well-developed hingepoint separating thalweg and pointbar adjustments (Fig. 9B). Bridge construction in 1981 resulted in a
relatively narrow channel with a steeper right bank, and cross sections
between 1984 and 2005 show initial thalweg aggradation (1.5 m)

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398


9331'W

EXPLANATION

9337'W

314'N

2006

TX 6

9336'W

3046'N

9332'W

EXPLANATION

3045'N

392

08028500
Sabine River
near Bon Wier
gauging station

2006

08026000
Sabine River
near Burkeville
gauging station

Flow direction

313'N

US 190
Railroad

Flow direction

11

300 600 900 1,200 METERS

5-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1956PRESENT)


(1,270 m3/s)
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
FLOOD STAGE (13.11 m)

UTM Zone 15N


NAD 1983
300 600 900 1,200 METERS

10
2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1956PRESENT) (724 m3/s)

11

9
BANK
EROSION

8
7

BRIDGE

HINGEPOINT

5
4

THALWEG
INCISION
INITIAL POINT-BAR
ACCRETION;
SUBSEQUENT
EROSION

3
2
100

125

150

175

200

225

250

2/8/1956
5/16/1963
5/12/1966
2/27/1980
1/7/1986
11/9/1994
1/27/1995
1/10/2001

275

300

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

12

3044'N

UTM Zone 15N


NAD 1983

Fig. 8. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Sabine River near Burkeville
(USGS 08026000). (A) Map of the channel near the gauging station (2006 position).
(B) Cross-sectional adjustments at the measurement location (19562001).

10

5-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1924PRESENT) (1,460 m3/s)


2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1924PRESENT) (903 m3/s)

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (9.14 m)

10/22/1957
1/14/1961
4/26/1966
6/22/1976

1/14/1932
4/30/1933
8/12/1940
1/16/1943
6/5/1952

8
7
6

BANK
EROSION

BRIDGE

5
4
INITIAL POINTBAR EROSION;
SUBSEQUENT
ACCRETION

3
2
1
0

INITIAL THALWEG
AGGRADATION;
SUBSEQUENT INCISION

-1
200

175

CHUTE CHANNEL
DEVELOPMENT;
SUBSEQUENT INFILLING

HINGEPOINT

150

125

100

75

50

25

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM RIGHT

followed by reincision (1 m), temporary scour-and-ll dynamics, and


minor adjustments along the upper right bank (Fig. 9C).
Phillips (2008) reports a geomorphic transition in this area based on
a decrease in slope, higher channeloodplain connectivity, and avulsive
behavior. These conditions could accentuate morphologic responses to
upstream controls, thus resulting in dynamic patterns of sedimentation.
The aggradational episode during the 1930s could have been caused by
various mechanisms, notably sediment delivery associated with regional
logging activities, which are further elaborated in the Discussion section
below. Channel adjustments following the passage of the sediment slug
restored the asymmetry normally expected at a meander bend. Channel
adjustments between 1984 and 2005 are mostly associated with articial
reinforcement of the left cutbank, which promoted bed incision to
compensate for the reduced cross-sectional area. No historical evidence
exists at this station for bed incision associated with Toledo Bend
Reservoir, a nding supported by Phillips (2003).
4.2.3. Sabine River near Ruliff
The Sabine River near Ruliff gauge (08030500) (24,160 km2) has a
long period of record (1924present) and occurs near the upper limit
of the deltaic plain. Unfortunately, eld measurement data prior to
1960 were not obtained. Streamow measurements were made from
a bridge until the late 1970s, and subsequent measurements were
mostly made about 10 km downstream on the Indian Bayou and
Old River distributaries (Fig. 10A). Cross sections between 1960

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

9
8

ARTIFICIAL BANK
REINFORCEMENT

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE


FLOOD STAGE (9.14 m)
INITIAL POINT-BAR
BENCH DEVELOPMENT;
SUBSEQUENT EROSION
(ARTIFICIAL?)

6
5
4
3
2

BRIDGE

HINGEPOINT?

1
0

2/15/1984
12/2/1986
1/15/1991
8/30/1994
1/15/2003
2/1/2005

INITIAL THALWEG
AGGRADATION;
SUBSEQUENT INCISION

-1
HIGH-FLOW
SCOUR

-2
-3
0

25

50

75

100

125

150

175

200

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT


Fig. 9. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Sabine River near Bon Wier
(USGS 08028500). (A) Map of the channel near the gauging station (2006 position).
(B) Cross-sectional adjustments at the old bridge (19321976). (C) Cross-sectional
changes at the new bridge (19842005).

and 1979 indicate minor bed adjustments and an aggradational trajectory (1 m) (Fig. 10B). Cross sections of the Indian River distributary between 1976 and 1999 also show minor bed adjustments, with an initial
aggradational phase (b 1 m) nullied by subsequent incision (Fig. 10C).

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

393

3018'N

9345'W

9344'W

9343'W

9342'W

08030500
Sabine River
near Ruliff
gauging station

TX

EXPLANATION
2006

12

3017'N

Flow direction

Old River

UTM Zone 15N


NAD 1983
0
500 1,000 1,500 2,000 METERS

Indian Bayou

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

10

5-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1919PRESENT) (1,640 m3/s)

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1919PRESENT) (1,080 m3/s)

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (7.32 m)

6
5
4
3

BRIDGE

2
1

11/30/1960
1/11/1961
4/27/1966
12/8/1971
4/24/1979

0
-1

THALWEG AGGRADATION

-2
0

20

40

60

80

100

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT


8

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (7.32 m)


3

5-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1919PRESENT) (1,640 m /s)

2-YEAR RETURN PERIOD (1919PRESENT) (1,080 m3/s)

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLOOD STAGE (7.32 m)

6
5
4
INITIAL CHANNEL-BED
AGGRADATION;
SUBSEQUENT INCISION

BOAT
8/5/1976
4/8/1977
2/26/1980
1/28/1985
6/7/1994
3/20/1995
6/2/1999

2
1
0
-1

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

CONTEMPORARY GAUGE HEIGHT (m)

10

-2
0

20

40

60

80

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT

100

8/5/1976
4/8/1977
2/26/1980
1/28/1985
6/7/1994
3/20/1995
6/2/1999

BOAT

7
6
5

2
1
0
-1

INITIAL CHANNEL-BED
AGGRADATION;
SUBSEQUENT INCISION

-2
-3
-4

20

40

60

80

100

CROSS-CHANNEL DISTANCE (m) FROM LEFT

Fig. 10. Summary of historical channel adjustments for the Sabine River near Ruliff (USGS 08030500). (A) Map of the channel near the gauging station (2006 position). (B) Cross-sectional
adjustments at the bridge (19601979). (C) Cross-sectional adjustments at Indian Bayou (19761999). (D) Cross-sectional adjustments at Old River (19761999).

Finally, cross sections of the Old River distributary exhibit considerable


variation and follow a similar trend, but overall changes in crosssectional area and mean depth are not detected (Fig. 10D).
This area is an important transition zone because distributary bifurcation initiates the Sabine River delta system (Phillips, 2008). Despite
temporal uctuations in bed elevation, channel geometry at this station
is generally stable, which is consistent with other channels in the region
downstream from onlap positions of the Pleistocene Deweyville terrace
deposits (Phillips and Slattery, 2008). Minor aggradation detected between 1960 and 1979 might result from downstream translation of
the sediment slug observed during the 1930s and 1940s at the Bon
Wier station. The primary controls, however, for channel adjustment
are distributary bifurcation mechanisms and temporary scour-and-ll
processes.
5. Discussion
5.1. Channel adjustments before the 1950s
The results above indicate that channel adjustments have occurred
during the twentieth century along the lower Brazos and Sabine Rivers,
some of which could not be detected using planform data. The availability of geomorphic data for river channels increased profoundly in the
late twentieth century, but prior planform data are commonly limited
to one or perhaps two time series of topographic maps and aerial
photos. During this early period, alluvial rivers could have rapidly
adjusted to prevailing environmental conditions in the study areas,

which included climatic extremes (e.g., 1930s Dust Bowl in the uppermost Brazos basin), agricultural expansion, urban-core development,
and ow-regulation infrastructure amidst few environmental impact
regulations. Presently, these conditions are not uncommon in many developing countries, thus much can be learned about predicting channel
adjustments to those activities from archival sources in previously
impacted areas. To a reasonable extent, limited historical data can
be remediated through analysis of hydrographic measurements at
long-term streamow-gauging stations (Juracek and Fitzpatrick,
2008), one of the great benets being an opportunity to render cross
sections to complement planform data. Although isolated to a limited
channel reach, historical trajectories of change can be inferred if site
characteristics (e.g., meander bend and bridge-dependent hydraulics)
are considered.
In this study, streamow-measurement data prior to 1950 were
used to analyze cross-sectional adjustments at four gauging stations
(Fig. 11). If a personal visit to the National Archives in Fort Worth had
been afforded, additional records possibly could have been located for
the Brazos River near Bryan and the Sabine River near Ruliff to further
extend their histories. The Brazos River at Waco aggraded from the
mid-1920s to the early 1940s, after which high ows reincised the
channel bed (Fig. 2B). Extremely arid conditions that affected the Brazos
River included two days of zero ow in August 1918 and several days in
August 1923, but the 1925 cross section is not aggraded. Effects of the
arid Dust Bowl event during the 1930s are largely conned to the uppermost drainage basin, much of which contributes to enclosed playa
depressions. Therefore, sediment contributions from the affected area

394

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398


A

Waco

BRAZOS RIVER

D
A

Highbank

D
A

Bank
Bed

???

D
D
A

Minor adjustments

D
A
D

SABINE RIVER

1920

1930

1940

Bed

Lower bank
Bed
Lower bank

A
D
A

1950

Bryan

Bank
Bed
Bank
Bed
Bank
Bed

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

Rosharon

2010

Bon Wier

???

A Aggradation / Accretion

Richmond

Burkeville

D
A

Hempstead

Ruliff

D Degradation / Erosion

Fig. 11. Summary of historical aggradation (accretion) and degradation (erosion) processes along the lower Brazos and Sabine Rivers. For each gauging station, a thin horizontal line
representing channel stability separates aggradation from degradation, such that more pronounced channel adjustments are more distant from the stability reference line.

to the middle Brazos River are probably limited to atmospheric deposition of ne-grained particulates that would have been easily ushed
downstream by a series of relatively high ows between 1930 and
1938, notably the peak recorded discharge of 6970 m3/s in 1936. The
aggradational period is thus attributed to those oods coupled with
land use practices in the watershed and the aforementioned dam construction for Lake Waco. Land use in this region during the 1930s was
mostly associated with cotton agriculture, and land-conservation practices were largely ignored. The native grassland cover was depleted
(Worster, 2013), and crop yields were bolstered by mechanized
plowing (Dethloff and Nall, 2013). Thus, the stage was set for delivery
of substantial sediment to the channel network during the storm events
of the 1930s, especially when combined with sediment derived from
dam site excavation and possibly urban development. If not for three
high peak ows in the early 1940s coupled with mandates for soil conservation practices following the Dust Bowl, the aggradational period at
Waco might have been more enduring.
The Brazos River near Hempstead and at Richmond was also examined for cross-sectional adjustments prior to 1950 (Fig. 11); however
both stations show variable responses, and localized factors complicate
addressing wholescale changes in environmental conditions. The channel near Hempstead underwent a period of channel narrowing and
deepening (Fig. 5B), which probably resulted from articial lling of
the right channel bank. At Richmond (Fig. 6B), minor bed aggradation
and incision episodes likely resulted from passage of a small sediment
slug derived from unknown sources. A fundamental difference between
Hempstead and Richmond is that accretion occurred along the upper
left bank in the former, while it occurred along the lower left bank in
the latter. As such, the vertical position of the hingepoint occurs at different stage levels.
Finally, the Sabine River near Bon Wier conveyed a large sediment
slug during the 1930s (Fig. 11) that ultimately widened the channel
and temporarily obliterated cross-sectional asymmetry normally
expected at a meander bend (Fig. 9B). Annual peak streamow during
this period was neither abnormally high nor low, ranging from
643 m3/s in 1937 to 2060 m3/s in 1935. Therefore, ood- or droughtrelated sedimentation is not likely the cause. Two possibilities are likely,
both related to the timber industry: (i) regional-scale logging and associated hillslope erosion or (ii) local-scale mill activities. The rst possibility is the downstream translation of a large sediment slug derived
from logged, barren hillslopes in the drainage basin. The logging industry in east Texas experienced a bonanza between the 1880s and 1920s
(Maxwell and Baker, 1983), and environmentally destructive skid trails
were made by dragging large logs across the ground surface. In the

Pacic Northwest, albeit a more consistent wet climate without intense


convective thunderstorms characteristic of the south-central USA, skid
trails and subsequent hillslope erosion resulted in extensive and rapid
sedimentation in stream channels (Beschta, 1978; Madej and Ozaki,
1996). Furthermore, during the early part of the logging boom in the
Gulf Coastal Plain prior to railway construction, trees adjacent to
streams were preferably felled because log transport was accomplished
by rafting to downstream sawmills (Hickman, 1962). This proximity to
tributaries increased the likelihood that sediment was directly delivered
to the channel network in a constrained timeframe, such that downstream sedimentation would have occurred (Ursic, 1986). As further
support for this hypothesis, various research efforts in the U.S. Gulf
Coastal Plain show increased rates of sediment delivery immediately
following forest harvesting (Beasley, 1979; Blackburn et al., 1986;
McBroom et al., 2008). Although the decline of the timber industry occurred during the Great Depression, the lag time between tree removal,
hillslope erosion, and tributary delivery to the main-stem Sabine River
would have been considerable in the relatively low relief terrain of
east Texas and Louisiana.
The second possibility, local mill activities, includes either direct
dumping of material and/or runoff and sediment delivery from mill
sites. The community of Bon Wier, TX, supported logging camps and
at least two mills from 19181924, 19271929, and 19321935
(Wooster, 2013). Irrespective of the exact mechanism, the passage of
the sediment slug by the end of the 1950s is apparent, although fate of
the sediment, whether deposited overbank or on downstream point
bars, is unknown.
5.2. Bankfull geometry
Historical cross sections at gauging stations afford an opportunity to
assess bankfull geometry in the context of ood frequency, notably because hydrologic analyses can be done using streamow data at the site.
Bankfull discharge is commonly associated with return periods ranging
between 1 and 2 years (Leopold et al., 1964; Knighton, 1998) for humid
zone, perennial rivers, and deviation from this range could indicate
channel disturbances (e.g., aggradation, incision) or other local inuences (e.g., bedrock controls). A limitation to this type of evaluation,
however, is the difculty of assigning bankfull stage at some sites
(Williams, 1978). Selected cross sections in this study reveal the following: (i) incised channels that convey relatively infrequent ows and (ii)
bank accretion within incised channels.
Incised channels occur along the Brazos River at Waco at the present
gauge location (Fig. 2D), near Highbank (Fig. 3B), near Hempstead

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

(Fig. 5BD), at Richmond (Fig. 6BC), and near Rosharon (Fig. 7B). The
Sabine River channel near Burkeville (Fig. 8B) is also incised. At Waco,
the stage associated with the 2-year return period is about 2.5 m
lower than the National Weather Service (NWS) ood stage, which is
equaled or exceeded once every 5 years on average. Near Highbank,
the 2-year ow stage is more than 5 m lower than ood stage. Near
Hempstead, the 2-year ow stage is more than 4 m lower than ood
stage, and the channel at Richmond conveys the 2-year ow at a stage
that is more than 3.5 m lower than ood stage. Of all the Brazos River
sites, Rosharon has the closest association between ood stage and the
2-year stage, which is only 1 m lower. Finally, the Sabine River near
Burkeville has a 2-year ow stage that is more than 3.5 m lower than
ood stage, whereas the downstream station near Bon Wier has similar
bankfull and 2-year ow stages (Fig. 9BC). Deltaic aggradation is apparent near Ruliff (Fig. 10BD) where the 2-year ow exceeds ood
stage by about 0.8 m.
In large part, the inability of 2-year return period ows to ll the
bankfull channel along the Brazos River is because of ood regulation
by upstream reservoirs (Table 1). For example, the 2-year ow at
Waco declined from 1440 m3/s before 1952 to 650 m3/s thereafter.
Similarly, the 2-year ow near Bryan declined from 1930 m3/s before
1952 to 1190 m3/s thereafter. Thus, the reduced peak ows are conveyed in a channel previously established by a natural ood regime
and, at some stations, bed incision resulting from reduced sediment
loads exacerbates the disparity between bankfull stage and the 2-year
return period.
At some sites along the Brazos River, lateral and vertical bank accretion mechanisms have served to reestablish a morphologic indicator of
the 1- to 2-year return period for the regulated ow regime. At Texas
Loop 340 at Waco (Fig. 2B), a sediment bench ~10 m wide has vertically
accreted more than 2 m as it approached the 1.5-year ow stage. At the
discontinued station near Bryan (Fig. 4B), a sediment bench ~20 m
wide has vertically accreted more than 3 m to exceed the 1.1-year
ow stage. Bank accretion mechanisms are also apparent near Hempstead, notably between 1980 and 2000 (Fig. 5D) when a sediment
bench approximately 20 m wide vertically accreted about 3 m as it
approached the 1.5-year ow stage. The left channel bank at Richmond
has gradually accreted (Fig. 6C), although a vertical limit is not detectable in the data set. Finally, the left bank near Rosharon (Fig. 7B) has laterally accreted more than 25 m with an undetectable vertical limit. At
all sites, bank accretion occurred contemporaneously with bed incision,
which nullies wholescale aggradation by increased sediment loads as
an explanatory mechanism. The progressive and gradual growth of
bank accretion deposits spanning one or more decades precludes their
association with relatively short-term events, such as drought-related
benches documented on smaller streams (e.g., Royall et al., 2010).
One complicating factor for interpreting bank accretion along the
lower Brazos River concerns vegetation encroachment. As evidenced
by ground and aerial photos from the 1950s and 1960s, vegetation
was commonly removed along the banks. The concomitant decrease
in channel roughness and exposure of bank sediments would result in
a wider channel relative to that of a naturally vegetated condition. As riparian vegetation growth increased since the 1950s concurrent with
ood regulation, bank sedimentation ensued. Whether the accretion is
more strongly associated with reduced ooding, vegetation encroachment, or the degree to which both contributed is subject to debate.
6. Conclusions
This investigation of historical channel adjustments along two coastal plain rivers reveals several mechanisms and styles of change that operate independently of one another across space and time. Distinctions
can be drawn between (i) upstream- and downstream-propagating disturbances and (ii) pulse- and ramp-style disturbances. Downstreampropagating disturbances are the most commonly identied in the literature, and several are identied. Channel-bed incision along the Brazos

395

and Sabine Rivers is documented for a moderate distance downstream


from dams that prevent sediment delivery, and the enduring presence
qualies as a ramp-style disturbance. The channel degradation immediately downstream of dams, however, is mitigated by sediment derived
from channel migration and tributaries, although migration rates have
been reduced between Waco and Highbank since reservoirs were developed upstream (Gillespie and Giardino, 1997).
Additional causes of bed incision along the lower Brazos River include upstream-migrating knickpoints associated with instream aggregate mining and possibly channelization. Direct aggregate extraction
from river channels commonly results in lateral migration and channel
width increases (Kondolf, 1994; Mossa and Marks, 2011). The lower
Brazos River, however, has not yet adjusted by an increase in width.
Instead, thalweg incision is commonly separated from bank accretion
by a hingepoint of cross-channel response, which indicates that a
noncohesive, mobile sandy bed preferentially adjusts as opposed to
either articially reinforced or cohesive bank deposits, a notion supported by adjustment of other low gradient, ne-grained streams (Simon,
1992). This manifestation of channel adjustment underscores the additional insights offered by historical cross sections, which would not be
detected by planform analysis. Furthermore, the bed degradation in the
lowermost channel is unlikely to soon be naturally mitigated downstream from the sedimentary onlap position with Pleistocene terrace deposits, which attenuates upstream controls and is characterized by
reduced migration rates.
Downstream-propagating disturbances are not only limited to incision but have also been associated with aggradation along the Brazos
and Sabine Rivers. The sediment slug observed along the Brazos River
at Waco likely resulted from direct introductions during upstream
dam construction combined with regional soil erosion, whereas the
slug along the Sabine River near Bon Wier might be associated with historical logging activities. Downstream translation of these sediment
pulses is similar in style and longevity to gravel waves described by
Jacobson and Gran (1999) along the Current River in the Missouri
Ozarks, although that system displays greater overall aggradation than
the rivers considered here. Based on channel recovery following their
passage, sediment slugs documented in this study can be considered
pulse-style disturbances, which differ somewhat from other rivers
that have exhibited enduring changes following sedimentation events
(Fitzpatrick et al., 2009; Madej and Ozaki, 2009; James et al., 2009b).
Furthermore, downstream translation of the Sabine River sediment
slug is not strongly apparent near Ruliff, which suggests that upstream
effects are attenuated in the alluvial-deltaic zone basinward from the
sedimentary onlap position. Finally, other pulse-style disturbances include local bank-stabilization efforts, which can complicate interpretations of long-term trajectories of geomorphic change.
The assessment of historical channel adjustments in the study areas is
one of multiple projects that will be relied upon to inform development
of targets for functional aquatic and riparian ecological conditions in
Texas. In particular, trajectories of channel change are related to distinct
(e.g., dam construction) or pervasive (e.g., ow regulation) phenomena.
Various engineering or policy approaches will be considered, based on
their plausibility, for conservation of acceptable conditions, mitigation
of anticipated channel adjustments, or rehabilitation of degraded
reaches. To this end, an important consideration regards the natural condition of river channels affected by human inuences through time. One
of the most vital decisions faced by river restoration specialists is What
condition(s) will serve as a measure of restoration success? Based on evidence from this study that documents channel responses to historical
land use practices (e.g., agriculture, logging), extensive riparian clearance
and revegetation, dam construction, and resulting ow regulation and
sediment entrapment, a legitimate question surfaces whether preregulation channel congurations reect healthy ecological conditions
and function. Thus, restoration targets should be contextualized using
historical morphologic data in association with the environmental conditions that both preceded and are contemporaneous with those data.

396

F.T. Heitmuller / Geomorphology 204 (2014) 382398

Unfortunately, channels existing prior to ow-regulation infrastructure


might not be optimal for ecological health. Therefore, programs that
rely upon replicating pre-regulation ow regimes or reconstructing
previous channel geometries are not fully equipped to restore healthy
ecological functions along rivers impacted by historical anthropogenic
disturbances.
Acknowledgments
The author expresses gratitude to the following agencies for their
nancial support of this research: the Texas Water Development Board
and the USGS. Additionally, the following individuals are appreciated
for their direct assistance and/or suggestions for improvement, although
responsibility for the content and interpretations within this manuscript
is solely that of the author: Ann Ardis, Peter Bush, John Elliott, Mark
Fonstad, John Gordon, Lauren Greene, Greg Malstaff, Jonathan Phillips,
Mark Wentzel, and Karl Winters. Finally, the manuscript was substantially improved through efforts of two anonymous reviewers. It is
dedicated to the memory of Jackson T. Heitmuller (20112012).
Appendix A. Supplementary data
Supplementary data to this article can be found online at http://dx.
doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2013.08.020.
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