Much of the Watonwan River tributary system to the upper Mississippi River basin (UMR), and the fluvial systems to which it drains, are listed as impaired under the United States Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act303(d) and/or by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In addition, eutrophic conditions and excessive sedimentation rates exist in Lake Pepin, a riverine lake to which the UMR drains. Thus, understanding the hydrogeomorphic change throughout the UMR is vital in order to establish appropriate efforts to mitigate environmental hazards downstream. This study attempts to evaluate hydrogeomorphic change at the watershed scale in the Watonwan River watershed between 1855 and the near present. Historical plat maps, digital elevation models (DEMs), aerial images, soil/topographic characteristics, land-use change, and field surveys are analyzed. Surficial hydrologic features digitized from historical plat maps are compared with contemporary stream networks extracted from high-resolution DEMs. Scale effects are investigated using multi-resolution (1 m, 3 m, 8.5 m, and 30 m) DEMs, with 8.5 m DEMs being ideal for watershed scale analysis, and 1–3 m DEMs being ideal for subwatershed analysis. There has been a substantial hydrogeomorphic change in the watershed since 1855, but most significantly, we interpret that the highest rates of erosion occur in the eastern watershed, where knickzone propagation has produced substantial relief.
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