Friday, July 13, 2012

Meandering Watercourses: Repairing the Riparians

Alfalfa sprouts hold the line on meandering streams

And you though it was an actual floodplain or river delta photo scene somewhere in Amazonia !!! It's actually a very ingenius experiment by a UC Berkeley graduate student Christian Braudrick, UC Berkeley Professor of Earth and Planetary Science William Dietrich and some other colleagues who have replicated the first experimental creation of meanders in a flume – a scaled down representation of a natural floodplain channel using alfalfa sprouts to represent riparian streamside vegetated stream banks.

Floodplain Lab Experiment
No one ever previously has been able to experimentally create or recreate a self-sustaining meandering hydrological system in the lab, and numerous restored meanders have straightened out or turned into multi-channel "braided" rivers after the first flood. Take a view of this short video clip as Christian explains the purpose of his experiment.

Now take a look below at this link and the Berkley Video of a time-lapse of water movement which shows water's ability to natural ability to twist back and forth in a meandering motion as explained decades ago by Viktor Schauberger of Austria who won several awards in River Engineering and Management which replicated what nature is designed to do without interference from Humans who would otherwise straighten the channel for commercial enterprise purposes.

That experiment to me must be to a biologist what a kid's HO Scale Train set is to him. I want one of those too!
 I actually stumbled across this experiment from a Christopher Richard's blog called "Flow Back in Time" which takes you on a re-enacted journey through Juan Bautista de Anza's trek through Yuma Arizona, Imperial County to Riverside County and places north towards today's San Francisco. It follows the then present water courses where today they are either completely absent or changed beyond recognition of what these Springs, Creeks, Rivers and other water sources once were in all their past glory. This is not simply a mere retracing for curiosity of Anza's route, but a study of the hydrological features at that time. 

Here is a link to his fascinating blog. Bookmark it and follow the discussion and ongoing posted articles which are not finished yet. By years end he will actually be up in the high country valley of Anza California where I once lived and for who the valley was named for. 
I have previously mentioned Viktor Schauberger, but most folks don't seem to have a real interest in what this man accomplished and did in life from 1885 to 1958. He witnessed amazing natural phenomena with regards water movement. He had theories of deriving energy from water based on his observations at the time. He was able to observe this natural phenomena in a pristine environment, an environment which no longer exists today and a phenomena which in many places is now non-existent. The sad thing is we may never appreciate all that he saw. He did comment once that a down hill spiral of the Natural World took place at the beginning of World War I in 1914. 

Swedish Researcher and Author Olof Alexandersson who is now himself close to 95 years of age if still alive, worked as an assistant to Schauberger the last few years of his life in the 1950s. He wrote a book called "Living Water" based on Schauberger's life and work and everyone should at least get a copy and read about this man's life and the things he saw and witnessed and the inventions he came up with based on water. I promise you that it will be difficult to put down until you finish it and then you'll want to reread portions of it. I've already mentioned his river engineering expertise which actually replicated what existed at one time out in nature. Here are some of his disgrams and drawings of how he believed rivers and other water courses should be repaired and re-engineered. Here are some of those drawings.

Much of his research was based on water's ability at spiral or vortex movement. He was well ahead of his time. He was constantly at odds with the conventional arrogant scientific understanding of the so-called geniuses of his day. Viktor Schauberger actually developed a sophisticated logging flume which was ahead of it's time and the principles of which were based on natural water movement observed in the environment. He later regretted doing this as it accelerated the destruction of Austria and Germany's old growth forest and in some cases caused permanent damage by all the removal of old growth vegetation. Still the meandering river lab experiment is fascinating and could be used as a model for repairing the damage humans have done. Though in the video they talk about learning how geological features on Mars which could possibly be explained, the REAL NEEDS are here on Earth. So much focus is on other worlds and space exploration and massive amounts of monies being spent on these. Yes they are fascinating, but they are NOT the present pressing need for Earth itself which Science has mismanaged and abused through many irresponsible technologies they have created for their commercial handlers.

 With that in mind another interesting site by LA Creek Freaks has focused on some of Southern California's present hydrological disasters and natural habitat problems. One positive focus has been a series of articles they have done on Riparian Habitat restoration projects along the Colorado River near Yuma Arizona. Let's first define the term 'Riparian' for some for who may not be familiar with it.
 Riparian Zone or Habitat (from Wiki)
A riparian zone or riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian is also the proper nomenclature for one of the fifteen terrestrial biomes of the earth. Plant habitats and communities along the river margins and banks are called riparian vegetation, characterized by hydrophilic plants. Riparian zones are significant in ecology, environmental management, and civil engineering because of their role in soil conservation, their habitat biodiversity, and the influence they have on fauna and aquatic ecosystems, including grassland, woodland, wetland or even non-vegetative. In some regions the terms riparian woodland, riparian forest, riparian buffer zone, or riparian strip are used to characterize a riparian zone. The word "riparian" is derived from Latin ripa, meaning river bank.

 On this note here are some of the related article on the lower Colorado River Valley restoration project by LA Creek Freak. This series was authored by one of many blog contributors named Joshua Link.
Explorations of the Lower Colorado River, #1: Motivation & the Vaquita Marina
Explorations of the Lower Colorado River #2: the River in Yuma
Explorations of the Lower Colorado River #3: The River in Mexico
Around the world many invasive species through no fault of their own have taken over certain regions and wreaked havoc on native populations of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds animals and plants. In Florida it's any number of trees such as Brazilian Pepper Tree and out west the mid-east introduction of the Tamarisk. Human ignorance and stupidity has always been at fault for this. Even after some education and information highlighted on this, criticism by a collection of cyberspace chatroom Buffoons always raises their ugly collective voices in sarcasm to what they perceive as alarmists (leaving out the true derogatory names). Nothing could be further from the truth. Below is a native plant nursery developing seedlings like willows, cottonwoods and other native riparian habitat plany community one displaced by an introduced species for windbreaks called Tamarisk.
Photo by LA creek Freak
Soaking dormant Willow cane poles in an old irrigation ditch before planting. Many if not most  riparian plants have the ability to propagate vegetatively, that is from branch cuttings or as in nature after floods when branches are broken naturally and buried in sand down stream. This ability is important as rapid streambank repair is essential.
Photo by LA Creek Freak
One of the biggest tasks in fighting with Tamarisks is understanding a few details about it's requirements and life cycle. The seed has a low sustainable viability rate. What I mean is that it needs to be germinated early in it's release. In most cases it's viable between 20 to 40 days and poops out after that. Another point can be illustrated down below. Take a look at these close plantings of Fremont Cottonwood Poles. While I don't necessarily like the agricultural rows, they can be thinned later for a more natural look. 

Photo by LA Creek Freak
However the main purpose here is to force tall leggy competition and create a tall forested canopy. Any young Tamarisk seedling started under such a canopy won't make it as they hate shade. A good bit of info to know when doing your own restoration project. Create a giant native cottonwood forest able to sustain itself and you can move on to other invaded areas. This also mimics those heavy rain season flooding events that come along every once in a while where land alluvial fans of massive soil sediments are deposited and kept wet  for a long period of time as runoff drains off over a long extended period of time and creates dense willow, cottonwood, alder, sycamore and other new riparian habitats.

 I'll have more later on specifics of restoration techniques, but don't forget the education and informative links above.


  1. Meanders are so important, as I long for the day when channelized drainages that treat water as a nuisance are over...for good. You might enjoy this site:

    Met the owner (Van Clothier) in Silver City, and he has some great ideas for our usually minor water courses, including when they are less minor in the monsoon season. 91F / 59F dewpoint, partly cloudy rt now here in Abq...

    1. Thanks for the link. Also another good read and resources are the work done down in Australia by Peter Andrews and his group with natural Sequence Farming which creates meanders of twisting and turning rivers and dry washes which come back to life irrigating the vast surrounding landscape. Their theory is to not try and prevent water from going back to the sea, but to slow it down considerably and allow it to benefit the surrounding natural world with it's hydrating energizing abilities when allowed to procede as it is designed to do. Straight channel and concreting have ruined many an ecosystem. Also allows for the creative thinking processes of a landscape design to imagine newer innovations and practical applications for successful landscaping.

      Natural Sequence Farming & Peter Andrews of Australia



  2. We live near a 'place' called Four and Twenty Rivers, but of course the farmers have long since forced the river into just a few channels - now there are vineyards where the rivers would have braided across the floodplain.

    1. Wasn't that like one of the kollest experiments you've ever seen done lately ? I want one of those.



    2. BTW, if you've never read the book "Living Water" by Olof Alexanderson, then by all means get it. It's a fascinating read and I know in me it triggered memories of similar natural phenomena with regards water in nature I had seen but could never explain. It'll be hard to put down and you'll go back and read again for tidbits you missed before.

      Thanks - Kevin


    3. Kevin, another fascinating post! I've been on the same page as you are. Have you read about the destruction of Iraq and their marshlands? I'm working on a post about this. He single handedly diverted the waters from an area known as the "Eden" of Iraq and destroyed the wetlands and cultures. This has been going on for awhile but I recently watched a special on this area and was hooked. They are currently trying to bring this immense wetland culture back. But dams in Turkey and elsewhere are diverting waters that are hindering in progress. I agree with you. Our focus needs to be here on Earth. We pollute one area and move onto another to contaminate something else? I think not. This is a global issue and I'm glad they're doing these experiments. Great post.

    4. Yes I have read about the Marsh folks. Incredibly they kept to themselves and never bothered the outside world. Saddam Hussein wanted to expand Iraq's coastline in the Persian Gulf. All they have is this narrow strip for Oil Tankers and Cargo Transport.

      That delta will have the same problems as the lower Coloraod and it's pathetic sand bar of a delta which was once a thriving massive sub-tropical forest with even Jaguar. I've recently written a post on my "Earth's Internet" blog where I'm also doing the Mesquite Seed experiment. Also also referenced the SDSU Mesquite Dune Experiment on Hwy 78 in the Yuha Desert near the Salton Sea and took photos last year. The San Sebastian Marsh is just west and north of there where the San Felipe Creek enters the Salton Sea. The area when Juan Bautista de Anza encamp there was also very much like the Colorado river delta and claims of Jaguar were there also. It's amazing how fast humans destroy what they touch.



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