The network of rivers in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta has a long history of human modification to fulfill residential and agricultural water needs. The Cosumnes River, which flows into the delta, is relatively unimpeded save for earthen levees erected along its banks to prevent natural flooding events from ruining nearby agricultural fields.
Scientists from University of California–Davis recently analyzed the sediment trail of a flood that broke a Cosumnes levee using airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data to measure surface elevation. Similar to radar, this technique uses laser light instead of radio waves to document elevation and the height of trees. The data and analyses will help land managers understand how accidental and intentional levee breaks can keep a river flowing more naturally and foster the restoration of forests and other river ecosystems.