Felipe Arróspide, a, b; Luca Mao, c, b; Cristián Escauriaza, a, b.
a Departamento de Ingeniería Hidráulica y Ambiental, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Av. Vicuña Mackenna 4860, 7820436 Santiago, Chile
b Centro de Investigación para la Gestión Integrada de Desastres Naturales (CIGIDEN), Chile
c Departamento de Ecosistemas y Medio Ambiente, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Av. Vicuña Mackenna 4860, 7820436 Santiago, Chile
Instream gravel mining is one of the most important causes of channel degradation in South America, specifically in rivers located near large metropolitan areas with rapidly growing cities, where no river management strategies exist. In the western region of the continent, many of these rivers belong to Andean systems, in which significant parts of the watersheds are located in mountain areas at high altitude, with considerable seasonal rainfall variability and steep channel slopes. In these rivers, gravel mining has produced significant incision of the channels with serious physical and ecological consequences, affecting habitats, modifying the supply and transport of sediments, and amplifying the risk to infrastructure in and around the channel during floods. In spite of the degraded conditions of many channels, no quantitative studies of the geomorphic impacts of gravel mining have been carried out in the region, mostly because of the insufficient and sparse data available. In this investigation we perform an analysis of the morphodynamic evolution in a section of the Maipo River in the metropolitan region of Santiago, Chile. This river is economically the most important in the country, as it provides drinking and irrigation water to urban and rural areas, is utilized by the energy generation industry, and runs along and below critical infrastructure. We have collected and analyzed data from 1954 to 2015, during which the city population increased by more than 5 million inhabitants whose presence accelerated land use changes. The analysis shows a rapid morphological evolution of the channel where in 31 years effects such as: river sections showing incision of up to 20 m, an increase of the area affected by gravel mining from 86.62 to 368.13 ha, and a net erosion volume of 39.4 million m3 can be observed. This work yields quantitative information on the consequences of gravel mining in the Maipo River, providing the necessary data to develop an integrated strategy to define management and restoration actions for this and other similar Andean rivers.