Factors influencing streambed hydraulic conductivity and their implications on stream-aquifer interaction: a conceptual review

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2017 Nov;24(32):24765-24789. doi: 10.1007/s11356-017-0393-4. Epub 2017 Oct 7.


The estimation and modeling of streambed hydraulic conductivity (K) is an emerging interest due to its connection to water quality, aquatic habitat, and groundwater recharge. Existing research has found ways to sample and measure K at specific sites and with laboratory tests. The challenge undertaken was to review progress, relevance, complexity in understanding and modeling via statistical and geostatistical approaches, literature gaps, and suggestions toward future needs. This article provides an overview of factors and processes influencing streambed hydraulic conductivity (K) and its role in the stream-aquifer interaction. During our synthesis, we discuss the influence of geological, hydrological, biological, and anthropogenic factors that lead to variability of streambed substrates. Literature examples document findings to specific sites that help to portray the role of streambed K and other interrelated factors in the modeling of hyporheic and groundwater flow systems. However, studies utilizing an integrated, comprehensive database are limited, restricting the ability of broader application and understanding. Examples of in situ and laboratory methods of estimating hydraulic conductivity suggest challenges in acquiring representative samples and comparing results, considering the anisotropy and heterogeneity of fluvial bed materials and geohydrological conditions. Arriving at realistic statistical and spatial inference based on field and lab data collected is challenging, considering the possible sediment sources, processes, and complexity. Recognizing that the K for a given particle size group includes several to many orders of magnitude, modeling of streambed K and groundwater interaction remain conceptual and experimental. Advanced geostatistical techniques offer a wide range of univariate or multi-variate interpolation procedures such as kriging and variogram analysis that can be applied to these complex systems. Research available from various studies has been instrumental in developing sampling options, recognizing the significance of fluvial dynamics, the potential for filtration, transfer, and storage of high-quality groundwater, and importance to aquatic habitat and refuge during extreme conditions. Efforts in the characterization of natural and anthropogenic conditions, substrate materials, sediment loading, colmation, and other details highlight the great complexity and perhaps need for a database to compile relevant data. The effects on streambed hydraulic conductivity due to anthropogenic disturbances (in-stream gravel mining, contaminant release, benthic activity, etc.) are the areas that still need focus. An interdisciplinary (hydro-geo-biological) approach may be necessary to characterize the magnitude and variability of streambed K and fluxes at local, regional scales.

Keywords: Anthropogenic activities; Colmation; Fluvial hydrology; Hydraulic conductivity; Hyporheic zone; Streambed; Stream–aquifer interaction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Geologic Sediments / analysis*
  • Groundwater / analysis*
  • Rivers*
  • Water Movements*