Using 137 Cs as a tool for the assessment and the management of erosion/sedimentation risks in view of the restoration of the Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) fish population in the Boyer River basin (Québec, Canada)

C. BERNARD, M.R. LAVERDIÈRE

Abstract


The Boyer River (Québec, Canada) drains a 217 km 2 watershed that is under cultivation at 60%. The last 2 km of the river bed has always been used as a spawning ground by Rainbow Smelts (Osmerus mordax). This fish population, which plays an important ecological role in the St.Lawrence River estuary, has dramatically declined over the last decades. Siltation and excessive algal growth in the spawning area were identified as the most probable causes of the fish population decline; suggesting that soil erosion, nutrient and sediment transport are major factors underlying the environmental problem . In this context, 137Cs provides an effective tool for investigating the magnitude and spatial distribution of long-term soil redistribution taking place in the watershed. Sampling of cultivated fields, riverbanks, bottom sediments and forested sites were thus undertaken to help understand the erosive behaviour of the watershed. Results obtained so far suggest in-field erosion rates of up to 13 t ha-1 yr-1 with net outputs reaching 11 t ha-1 yr-1. These results agree well with estimates obtained from the USLE. The 137Cs data indicate that fields located in the upstream half of the basin produce smaller sediment loadings than those in the downstream portion, despite higher soil erodibilities and more frequent ose for annual crops. They also suggest that more than 75% of the sediment deposited in the spawning area originates from cultivated fields, and less than 25% from streambanks.

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