Water Temperature, pH, and Road Salt Impacts on the Fluvial Erosion of Cohesive Streambanks
Increasing human populations and global climate change will severely stress our water resources. One potential unforeseen consequence of these stressors is accelerated stream channel erosion due to increased stream temperatures and changes in stream chemistry, which affect the surface potential and hence the stability of soil colloids. The objectives of this study were to determine the effect of water temperature, pH, and salinity on streambank erosion rates; determine how erosion rates vary with clay mineralogy; and, explore the relationship between zeta potential and erosion rate. Remolded samples of natural montmorillonite- and vermiculite-dominated soils were eroded in a recirculating hydraulic flume under multiple shear stresses (0.1–20 Pa) with different combinations of water temperature (10, 20, and 30 °C), pH (6 and 8), and deicing salt (0 and 5000 mg/L). The results show that erosion rates significantly increased with increasing water temperature: a 10 °C increase in water temperature increased median erosion rates by as much as a factor of eight. Significant interactions between water pH and salinity also affected erosion rates. In freshwater, erosion rates were inversely related to pH; however, at high salt concentrations, the influence of pH on erosion rates was reduced. Results of this study clearly indicate water chemistry plays a critical role in the fluvial erosion of cohesive streambanks and suggest that channel protection efforts should include controls for stream temperature, in addition to peak flow rates, to maintain channel stability.