Hydrologic retention of solutes in hyporheic zones or other slowly moving waters of natural channels is thought to be a significant control on biogeochemical cycling and ecology of streams. To learn more about factors affecting hydrologic retention, we repeated stream-tracer injections for 5 years in a semi-arid alluvial stream (Pinal Creek, Ariz.) during a period when streamflow was decreasing, channel width increasing, and coverage of aquatic macrophytes expanding. Average stream velocity at Pinal Creek decreased from 0.8 to 0.2 m/s, average stream depth decreased from 0.09 to 0.04 m, and average channel width expanded from 3 to 13 m. Modeling of tracer experiments indicated that the hydrologic retention factor (Rh), a measure of the average time that solute spends in storage per unit length of downstream transport, increased from 0.02 to 8 s/m. At the same time the ratio of cross-sectional area of storage zones to main channel cross-sectional area (As/A) increased from 0.2 to 0.8 m2/m2, and average water residence time in storage zones (ts) increased from 5 to 24 min. Compared with published data from four other streams in the US, Pinal Creek experienced the greatest change in hydrologic retention for a given change in streamflow. The other streams differed from Pinal Creek in that they experienced a change in streamflow between tracer experiments without substantial geomorphic or vegetative adjustments. As a result, a regression of hydrologic retention on streamflow developed for the other streams underpredicted the measured increases in hydrologic retention at Pinal Creek. The increase in hydrologic retention at Pinal Creek was more accurately predicted when measurements of the Darcy-Weisbach friction factor were used (either alone or in addition to streamflow) as a predictor variable. We conclude that relatively simple measurements of channel friction are useful for predicting the response of hydrologic retention in streams to major adjustments in channel morphology as well as changes in streamflow. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
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Predicting changes in hydrologic retention in an evolving semi-arid alluvial stream