Rivers and canals with perimeters composed of non-cohesive sand and silt have self-formed active beds and banks. They thus provide a most interesting fluid flow problem, for which one must determine the container as well as the flow. If bed load alone occurs across the perimeter of a wide channel, gravity will pull particles down the lateral slope of the banks; bank erosion is accomplished and the channel widens. In order to maintain equilibrium, this export of material from the banks must be countered by an import of sediment from the channel centre.
The mechanism postulated for this import is lateral diffusion of suspended sediment, which overloads the flow near the banks and causes deposition. The model is formulated analytically with the aid of a series of approximate but reasonable assumptions. Singular perturbation techniques are used to define the channel geometry and obtain rational regime relations for straight channels. A comparison with data lends credence to the model.
It is hoped that a first step has been made towards a more general treatment, which would include various complicating factors that are important features of natural rivers but are not essential to the maintenance of channel width. Among these factors are meandering, sediment sorting and seepage.