, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 795–811

Evolution of tidal creek networks in a high sedimentation environment: A 5-year experiment at Tijuana Estuary, California


  • Katy J. Wallace
    • Botany Department and ArboretumUniversity of Wisconsin
  • John C. Callaway
    • Department of Environmental ScienceUniversity of San Francisco
    • Botany Department and ArboretumUniversity of Wisconsin

DOI: 10.1007/BF02696010

Cite this article as:
Wallace, K.J., Callaway, J.C. & Zedler, J.B. Estuaries (2005) 28: 795. doi:10.1007/BF02696010


In a large (8 ha) salt marsh restoration site, we tested the effects of excavating tidal creeks patterned after reference systems. Our purposes were to enhance understanding of tidal creek networks and to test the need to excavate creeks during salt marsh restoration. We compared geomorphic changes in areas with and without creek networks (n = 3; each area 1.3 ha) and monitored creek cross-sectional areas, creek lengths, vertical accretion, and marsh surface elevations for 5 yr that included multiple sedimentation events. We hypothesized that cells with creeks would develop different marsh surface and creek network characteristics (i.e., surface elevation change, sedimentation rate, creek cross-sectional area, length, and drainage density). Marsh surface vertical accretion averaged 1.3 cm yr−1 with large storm inputs, providing the opportunity to assess the response of the drainage network to extreme sedimentation rates. The constructed creeks initially filled due to high accretion rates but stabilized at cross-sectional areas matching, or on a trajectory toward, equilibrium values predicted by regional regression equations. Sedimentation on the marsh surface was greatest in low elevation areas and was not directly influenced by creeks. Time required for cross-sectional area stabilization ranged from 0 to > 5 yr, depending on creek order. First-order constructed creeks lengthened rapidly (mean rate of 1.3 m yr−1) in areas of low elevation and low vegetation cover. New (volunteer) creeks formed rapidly in cells without creeks in areas with low elevation, low vegetation cover, and high elevation gradient (mean rate of 6.2 m yr−1). After 5 yr, volunteer creeks were, at most, one-fourth the area of constructed creeks and had not yet reached the upper marsh plain. In just 4 yr, the site’s drainage density expanded from 0.018 to reference levels of 0.022 m m−2. Pools also formed on the marsh plain due to sediment resuspension associated with wind-driven waves. We conclude that excavated creeks jump-started the development of drainage density and creek and channel dimensions, and that the tidal prism became similar to those of the reference site in 4–5 yr.

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© Estuarine Research Federation 2005