Conversion of upland forest and prairie vegetation to agricultural land uses, following Euro-American settlement in the Upper Mississippi River System, led to accelerated runoff and soil erosion that subsequently transformed channels, floodplains, and wetlands on bottomlands. Halfway Creek Marsh, at the junction of Halfway Creek and the Mississippi River on Wisconsin's western border, is representative of such historical transformation. This marsh became the focus of a 2005-2006 investigation by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Wisconsin- Madison, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who used an understanding of the historical transformation to help managers identify possible restoration alternatives for Halfway Creek Marsh. Field-scale topographic surveys and sediment cores provided data for reconstructing patterns and rates of historical overbank sedimentation in the marsh. Information culled from historical maps, aerial photographs, General Land Offi ce Survey notes, and other historical documents helped establish the timing of anthropogenic disturbances and document changes in channel patterns. Major human disturbances, in addition to agricultural land uses, included railroad and road building, construction of artifi cial levees, drainage alterations, and repeated dam failures associated with large floods. A volume of approximately 1,400,000 m3, involving up to 2 m of sandy historical overbank deposition, is stored through the upper and lower marshes and along the adjacent margins of Halfway Creek and its principal tributary, Sand Lake Coulee. The estimated overbank sedimentation rate for the entire marsh is ??3,000 m3 yr-1 for the recent period 1994-2006. In spite of reduced surface runoff and soil erosion in recent years, this recent sedimentation rate still exceeds by ??4 times the early settlement (1846-1885) rate of 700 m3 yr-1, when anthropogenic acceleration of upland surface runoff and soil erosion was beginning. The highest rate of historical bottomland sedimentation occurred from 1919 to 1936, when the estimated overbank sedimentation rate was 20,400 m3 yr- 1. This rate exceeded by nearly 30 times the 1846-1886 rate. Artifi cial levees were constructed along the upper reach of Halfway Creek in the marsh during the early twentieth century to restrict fl ooding on the adjacent bottomlands. Anomalously high overbank sedimentation rates subsequently occurred on the fl oodplain between the levees, which also facilitated more effi cient transport of sediment into the lower marsh bottomland. Although overbank sedimentation rates dropped after 1936, corresponding to the widespread adoption of soil-conservation and agricultural best-management practices, the continuation of anomalously high overbank sedimentation between the levees led to increased bank heights and development of a relatively deep channel. The deep cross-section morphology is commonly mistaken as evidence of channel incision; however, this morphology actually resulted from excessive overbank sedimentation. The historical metamorphosis of the Halfway Creek channel and riparian wetlands underscores the importance of understanding the long-term history of channel and fl oodplain evolution when restoration of channels and riparian wetlands are under consideration. Sedimentation patterns and channel morphology for Halfway Creek Marsh probably are representative of other anthropogenically altered riparian wetlands in the Upper Mississippi River System and similar landscapes elsewhere.
Additional Publication Details
Channel, floodplain, and wetland responses to floods and overbank sedimentation, 1846-2006, Halfway Creek Marsh, Upper Mississippi Valley, Wisconsin
Special Paper of the Geological Society of America