Controls on large boulder mobility in an ‘auto‐naturalized’ constructed step‐pool river: San Clemente Reroute and Dam Removal Project, Carmel River, California, USA

Douglas P. Smith, Stefanie R. Kortman, Andrew M. Caudillo, Ruby L. Kwan‐Davis, John J. Wandke, Joseph W. Klein, Michael C.S. Gennaro, Mikaela A. Bogdan, Peter A. Vannerus, Doug Smith

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A 1200 m-long river segment of Carmel River (California) was constructed to bypass trapped reservoir sediment when San Clemente Dam was removed from the Carmel River in 2015. Hundreds of large boulders were used to construct 53 steps in an 800 m-long reach of the project. Nearly all the boulders were scattered to new locations in high flows of 2017, and have been relatively stable since that time. We analysed the causes of incipient motion and distance travelled for 226 randomly selected large boulders (0.5–1.8 m) impacted by a flood event in winter of 2019. Channel width, water depth, and isolation from neighbouring boulders were the main variables controlling individual large boulder incipient motion during a 10-year peak flow event in the ‘auto-naturalized’ constructed step-pool river in 2019. There is weak statistical evidence that a combination of shear stress and the presence of boulders located laterally downstream of the subject boulder controlled the distance the boulder moved. Frequentist statistics and Akaike information criterion model comparison determined that boulder size, boulder shape, boulder roundness, and local thalweg slope were not good predictors of large boulder incipient motion or distance transported. Average dimensionless critical shear value for the four largest mobilized boulders (1.5–1.6 m) was 0.014. We describe the geomorphic history of the site and use our results to discuss potential causes of unanticipated large boulder transport at the site that occurred in a <2-year peak flow of winter 2016 soon after step construction.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
StatePublished - Mar 20 2020


  • bedload transport
  • boulder mobility
  • fluvial geomorphology
  • incipient motion
  • river construction
  • shear stress
  • step-pool


  • Geology
  • Geomorphology

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