Integrating remotely acquired and field data to assess effects of setback levees on riparian and aquatic habitat in glacial-melt water rivers

River Research and Applications

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DOI: 10.1002/rra.1070



Setback levees, in which levees are reconstructed at a greater distance from a river channel, are a promising restoration technique particularly for alluvial rivers with broad floodplains where river-floodplain connectivity is essential to ecological processes. Documenting the ecological outcomes of restoration activities is essential for assessing the comparative benefits of different restoration approaches and for justifying new restoration projects. Remote sensing of aquatic habitats offers one approach for comprehensive, objective documentation of river and floodplain habitats, but is difficult in glacial rivers because of high suspended-sediment concentrations, braiding and a lack of large, well-differentiated channel forms such as riffles and pools. Remote imagery and field surveys were used to assess the effects of recent and planned setback levees along the Puyallup River and, more generally, the application of multispectral imagery for classifying aquatic and riparian habitats in glacial-melt water rivers. Airborne images were acquired with a horizontal ground resolution of 0.5 m in three spectral bands (0.545-0.555, 0.665-0.675 and 0.790-0.810 ??m) spanning from green to near infrared (NIR) wavelengths. Field surveys identified river and floodplain habitat features and provided the basis for a comparative hydraulic analysis. Broad categories of aquatic habitat (smooth and rough water surface), exposed sediment (sand and boulder) and vegetated surfaces (herbaceous and deciduous shrub/forest) were classified accurately using the airborne images. Other categories [e.g. conifers, boulder, large woody debtis (LWD)] and subdivisions of broad categories (e.g. riffles and runs) were not successfully classified either because these features did not form large patches that could be identified on the imagery or their spectral reflectances were not distinct from those of other habitat types. Airborne imagery was critical for assessing fine-scale aquatic habitat heterogeneity including shallow, low-velocity regions that were not feasible or practical to map in the field in many cases due to their widespread distribution, small size and poorly defined boundaries with other habitat types. At the reach-scale, the setback levee affected the amount and distribution of riparian and aquatic habitats: (1) the area of all habitats was greater where levees had been set back and with relatively more vegetated floodplain habitat and relatively less exposed sediment and aquatic habitat, (2) where levees confine the river, less low-velocity aquatic habitat is present over a range of flows with a higher degree of bed instability during high flows. As river restoration proceeds in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere, remotely acquired imagery will be important for documenting its effects on the amount and distribution of aquatic and floodplain habitats, complimenting field data as a quantitative basis for evaluating project efficacy.

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Journal Article
Integrating remotely acquired and field data to assess effects of setback levees on riparian and aquatic habitat in glacial-melt water rivers
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River Research and Applications
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Washington Water Science Center
18 p.
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