Boulder Cluster Design Guidance for River Restoration

Project ID: 23039
Principal Investigator: Melissa Shinebein
Research Topic: Fish Passage and Entrainment
Funded Fiscal Years: 2023 and 2024
Keywords: None

Research Question

How can restoration practitioners apply design guidance from physical and numerical modeling studies to identify the most effective boulder cluster configurations to improve aquatic habitat and fish passage?

Existing boulder cluster design information provides general considerations, but do not provide quantitative data or methods that can be implemented to design a project and analyze whether it is effective for achieving the desired results. Previous work recently completed by the authors of this proposal (described below) includes physical and numerical modeling to analyze the effect of boulder clusters on depth, velocity, and fish habitat. The scope of the previous work did not include synthesizing qualitative design guidelines with the quantitative model results. Therefore, it is difficult for those not involved in the model studies to apply the results to new projects. The current proposal provides a solution to the research question by linking the existing qualitative design guidelines with physical and numerical models to create a more comprehensive design methodology that can be understood and applied by restoration practitioners.

Need and Benefit

Reclamation spends tens of millions of dollars annually on habitat restoration design, construction, monitoring, and maintenance. Current design information for boulder clusters is outdated, incomplete, and lacking detail. Design guidelines for restoration techniques save money by providing consistent standards of practice, improving project effectiveness, and reducing post-construction maintenance. Over $200,000 of previous research provided data from physical and numerical modeling; however, designers need a simpler methodology that is based on physical and numerical model data but also incorporates some of the general considerations from previous qualitative guidelines. Without this project, the previous research remains too site-specific to be broadly applied. This proposal would develop Boulder Cluster Design Guidelines to provide a valuable reference to designers in Reclamation's species recovery programs. The guidelines would be relevant to any Regional or Area Office seeking to improve fish habitat or fish passage.

Further refinement of the boulder cluster designs will help demonstrate the functionality of the concept as a low-cost alternative to high complexity prescriptive design methodologies. The immediate benefit of this project will come in the form of lower design cost for similarly channelized urban environments. The different design alternatives that come from this study will allow project managers to quantify the cost associated with different levels of river restoration. Furthermore, as Reclamation spends tens of millions of dollars of restoration projects, the benefit of lowering the costs of these projects will be immediate. In the longer term, these projects present a reduced impact to fish and the environment as well as increasing recreational space. For the LA River project contained in the original scope of work, this project created an additional 10-miles of recreational space that was previously channelized and unusable for recreation.

Contributing Partners

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Research Products

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Last Updated: 6/22/20