, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 273-282

Indirect environmental effects of dikes on estuarine tidal channels: Thinking outside of the dike for habitat restoration and monitoring

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Abstract

While the most obvious effects of dike construction and marsh conversion are those affecting the converted land (direct or intended effects), less immediately apparent effects also occur seaward of dikes (indirect or unintended effects). I analyzed historical photos of the Skagit River delta marshes (Washingto, U.S.) and compared changes in estuarine marsh and tidal channel surface area from 1956–2000 in the Wiley slough area of the South fork Skagit delta, and from 1937–2000 in the North Fork delta. Dike construction in the late 1950s caused the loss of 80 ha of estuarine marsh and 6.7 ha of tidal channel landward of the Wiley Slough dikes. A greater amount of tidal channel surface area, 9.6 ha, was lost seaward of the dikes. Similar losses were observed for two smaller North Fork tidal channel systems. Tidal channels far from dikes did not show comparable changes in channel surface areas. These results are consistent with hydraulic geometry theory, which predicts that diking reduces tidal flushing in the undiked channel remnants and this results in sedimentation. Dikes may have significant seaward effects on plants and animals associated with tidal channel habitat. Another likely indirect dike effect is decreased sinuosity in a distributary channel of the South Fork Skagit River adjacent to and downstream of the Wiley Slough dikes, compared to distributary channels upstream or distant from the dikes. Loss of floodplain area to diking and marsh conversion prevents flood energy dissipation over the marsh surface. The distributary channal has responded to greater flood energy by increasing mean channel width and decreasing sinuosity. Restoration of diked areas should consider historic habitat loss swaward of dikes, as well as possible benefits to these areas from dike breaching or removal. Habitat restoration by breaching or removal of dikes should be monitored in areas directly affected by dikes, areas indirectly affected, and distinct reference areas.