Overbank flooding is recognized by hydrologists as a key process that drives hydrogeomorphic and ecological dynamics in mountain valleys. Beaver create dams that some ecologists have assumed may also drive riparian hydrologic processes, but empirical evidence is lacking. We examined the influence of two in-channel beaver dams and a 10 year flood event on surface inundation, groundwater levels, and flow patterns in a broad alluvial valley during the summers of 2002-2005. We studied a 1.5 km reach of the fourth-order Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado, USA. The beaver dams and ponds greatly enhanced the depth, extent, and duration of, inundation associated with floods; they also elevate the water table during both high and low flows. Unlike previous studies we found the main effects of beaver on hydrologic processes occurred downstream of the dam rather than being confined to the near-pond area. Beaver dams on the Colorado River caused river water to move around them as surface runoff and groundwater seepage during both high- and low-flow periods. The beaver dams attenuated the expected water table decline in the drier summer months for 9 and 12 ha of the 58 ha study area. Thus we provide empirical evidence that beaver can influence hydrologic processes during the peak flow and low-flow periods on some streams, suggesting that beaver can create and maintain hydrologic regimes suitable for the formation and persistence of wetlands. Copyright 2006 by the American Geophysical Union.
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Beaver dams and overbank floods influence groundwater-surface water interactions of a Rocky Mountain riparian area