Deeply incised channels, commonly called arroyos, are a typical feature of the dry alluvium-filled valleys of the southwestern United States. Unlike many geological processes that operate over millions of years, the formation of many miles of arroyos is one that took place in a little more than a century. Most arroyos in the region began to form in the late 19th century. Because dry landscapes change so quickly, they present society with special problems. Rapid expansion of channels by headcut migration, deepening, and widening causes loss of productive agricultural and commercial lands and threatens infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and buildings. High rates of sedimentation shorten the life of reservoirs, clog culverts, and fill stream channels to the extent that they can no longer contain streamflow within their banks.
This report presents an explanation of erosional and depositional processes in desert landscapes, especially those characterized by incised channels, for the use of those who use, manage, and live on such lands. The basic principles of erosion, sediment transport, and deposition are presented including the formation of sediment, the forces that erode and transport it, the forces that resist its erosion and transport, and the conditions that cause it to be deposited. The peculiarities of sedimentation processes in the Southwest include the infrequent and variable precipitation, the geological setting, and the sparseness of vegetation.
A classification system for incised channels that is intended for users who do not necessarily have a background in fluvial hydrology has been developed and is presented in this report. The classification system is intended to enable a user to classify a reach of channel quickly on the basis of field observations. The system is based on the shape and condition of channels and on the sedimentation processes that are predominantly responsible for those conditions. Because those processes are controlled by environmental factors operating on the entire drainage basin, classification of channels can provide land managers and users with an understanding of what areas are likely to be most susceptible to erosion or the effects of high sedimentation rates and under what conditions they are most likely to occur.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
A field guide for the assessment of erosion, sediment transport, and deposition in incised channels of the southwestern United States
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey ;
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