Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Hydrologic Engineering (2013) 18: 1200-1210. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE) HE.1943-5584.0000685


The effects of seepage on streambank erosion and failure are less understood compared to fluvial processes, especially the linkage between surface water and groundwater mechanisms. Field data are needed to validate laboratory seepage erosion and instability conclusions and to understand how engineering tools and methods may be applied to field conditions. An innovative trench injection system was utilized to provide a constant head on a near-streambank groundwater system when filled with stream water. This research was performed on a streambank of Dry Creek, a deeply incised stream with near-vertical banks located in Mississippi. Experiments included installing a trench (2.8 m from the bank and 2 m below ground surface) and a network of tensiometers and observation wells to measure soil-water pressures and water table elevations. Bank stratigraphy consisted of a sloping, conductive loamy sand layer between cohesive streambank layers. Groundwater conditions were monitored during a series of induced-seepage experiments. The bank face was outfitted with a seepage collection device to measure seep flow rates and sediment concentrations. Seepage flow rates (as high as 0.4 L=min) and corresponding erosion rates (as high as 0.86 kg=min) were proportional to estimated hydraulic gradients in the near-streambank region and followed an excess flow rate equation. However, flow paths and hydraulic gradients were largely nonuniform due to local variability in streambank stratigraphy, suggesting difficulty when attempting to apply engineering analyses of bank erosion and stability for seepage processes without accounting for this heterogeneity. Seepage flow and erosion became restricted when small-scale bank failures due to undercutting blocked flow pathways and limited particle mobilization, termed temporary self-healing. Seepage erosion was shown to be an important mechanism of streambank failure, especially when acting in concert with fluvial erosion processes that prevent permanent self-healing of seeps.