A catastrophic flood in 1965 on Plum Creek, a perennial sandbed stream in the western Great Plains, removed most of the bottomland vegetation and transformed the single-thalweg stream into a wider, braided channel. Following eight years of further widening associated with minor high flows, a process of channel narrowing began in 1973; narrowing continues today. The history of channel narrowing was reconstructed by counting the annual rings of 129 trees and shrubs along a 5-km reach of Plum Creek near Louviers, Colorado. Sixty-three of these plants were excavated in order to determine the age and elevation of the germination point. The reconstructed record of channel change was verified from historical aerial photographs, and then compared to sediment stratigraphy and records of discharge and bed elevation from a streamflow gaging station in the study reach. Channel narrowing at Plum Creek occurs in two ways. First, during periods of high flow, sand and fine gravel are delivered to the channel, temporarily raising the general bed-level. Subsequently, several years of uninterrupted low flows incise a narrower channel. Second, during years of low flow, vegetation becomes established on the subaerial part of the present channel bed. In both cases, surfaces stabilize as a result of vegetation growth and vertical accretion of sediment.
Additional publication details
The role of vegetation and bed-level fluctuations in the process of channel narrowing