Changes in streambed sediment characteristics and solute transport in the headwaters of Valley Creek, an urbanizing watershed

Robert J. Ryan*, Aaron I. Packman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Changes in streambed sediments were monitored in conjunction with Q series of conservative solute tracer injections over a 2-year period to assess the effects of urbanization on two streams in the Valley Creek watershed, located in Chester County, Pennsylvania approximately 30 km west of Philadelphia. The modeling package OTIS was used to analyze the solute transport behavior. Comparison of the results from the two streams demonstrates that the fine sediment fraction of the streambed controls hydraulic conductivity and transient storage exchange in this gravel- and cobble-bed Piedmont system. One site had a narrow (10-40 m) riparian corridor of mowed lawn and woody brush. At this site, the silt-clay fraction (d<50 μm) of the fine sediment (d<2 mm) increased from 6 to 25% during the course of the study. The relationship between sediment characteristics and transient storage exchange was evaluated using the method of Wörman et al. [Wörman, A., Packman, A.I., Johansson, H., Jonsson, K., 2002a. Effect of flow-induced exchange in hyporheic zones on longitudinal transport of solutes in streams and rivers. Water Resources Research 38. doi: 10.1029/2001WR000769], who showed that the hyporheic residence time, scaled by the hydraulic conductivity and stream depth, is a function of stream velocity and physical channel characteristics. This analysis indicated that the observed change in fine sediment composition caused a two-fold reduction in the hydraulic conductivity, a four-fold reduction in the transient storage area, and an order of magnitude reduction in the exchange coefficient. The second study site had a wide (100-300 m) riparian corridor of deciduous forest. During the study period, a parcel of woodland encompassing 11% of the drainage area was cleared and nine homes were constructed on the site. Despite this prominent development of the watershed, there was no significant change in sediment characteristics or solute transport during the study period. The model-derived transient storage exchange parameters in our urbanizing study sites were found to be statistically similar to the values for forested mountain streams given in the literature. Thus, the relationship between urbanization and transient storage should be determined by examining the temporal change in the characteristics of individual stream reaches rather than by comparing the solute transport parameters obtained in different types of streams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-91
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - May 30 2006


  • Hyporheic exchange
  • Rivers
  • Sediment
  • Solute transport
  • Streams
  • Urbanization
  • Valley Creek

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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