Quantification of channel planform change on the lower Rangitikei River, New Zealand, 1949-2007: response to management?

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The Rangitikei River, a large gravel‐bed wandering river located in the North Island of New Zealand, has outstanding scenic characteristics, recreational, fisheries and wildlife habitat features. Recently concerns have been raised over the potential negative impact that perceived channel changes in the latter part of the 20th century may be having on the Rangitikei River recreational fishery. This study describes and quantifies the large‐scale morphological changes that have occurred in selected reaches of the lower Rangitikei River between 1949 and 2007. This research utilised historical aerial photography and analysis in ArcGIS® to quantify channel planform change in three reaches, encompassing ~18 km of the lower Rangitikei River. This showed that the lower Rangitikei was transformed from a multi‐channelled planform to a predominantly single‐thread wandering planform, with an associated reduction in morphological complexity and active channel width of up to 74%, between 1949 and 2007. Bank protection measures instigated under the Rangitikei River Scheme have primarily driven these changes. Gravel extraction has also contributed by enhancing channel‐floodplain disconnection and exacerbating sediment deficits. The findings of this study have implications for future management of the Rangitikei. Previous lower Rangitikei River management schemes have taken a reach‐based engineering approach with a focus on bank erosion protection and flood mitigation. This study has confirmed the lower river has responded geomorphologically to these goals of river control. However questions as to the economic and ecological sustainability of this management style may encourage river managers to consider the benefits of promoting a self‐adjusting fluvial system within a catchment‐framed management approach.
Planform change, Wandering gravel-bed river, Morphological diversity, Channel stability, River management