The Clean Water Act mandates that the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation's waters be maintained and restored. Physical integrity has often been defined as physical habitat integrity, and as such, data collected during biological monitoring programs focus primarily on habitat quality. However, we argue that channel stability is a more appropriate measure of physical integrity and that channel stability is a foundational element of physical habitat integrity in low-gradient alluvial streams. We highlight assessment tools that could supplement stream assessments and the Total Maximum Daily Load stressor identification process: field surveys of bankfull cross-sections; longitudinal thalweg profiles; particle size distribution; and regionally calibrated, visual, stream stability assessments. Benefits of measuring channel stability include a more informed selection of reference or best attainable stream condition for an Index of Biotic Integrity, establishment of a baseline for monitoring changes in present and future condition, and indication of channel stability for investigations of chemical and biological impairments associated with sediment discontinuity and loss of habitat quality.
- Biotic impairment
- Channel stability
- Habitat assessment
- Low-gradient alluvial streams