Flood plain and channel dynamics of the Quinault and Queets Rivers, Washington, USA

By: , and 



Comparison of historic channel migration rates, modern planform conditions, and overall sediment, wood, and flow conditions and interactions for the Quinault River and Queets River in the western Olympic Peninsula, Washington, reveals decadal- to century-scale interactions between gravel-bed channels and forested flood plains in temperate maritime environments. The downstream alluvial portions of these two rivers can be divided into three reaches of different slope, flow, sediment, and wood regimes: (i) the upper Quinault River is aggrading behind Lake Quinault, a natural lake that traps most sediment and wood transported from the Olympic Mountain headwaters. (ii) The lower Quinault River, downstream of Lake Quinault, transports only sediment and wood derived from reworking of flood-plain deposits and contributed from valley margins. (iii) The Queets River has unimpeded movement of sediment and water from the mountainous headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. Measurements of channel planform characteristics and historic migration rates and patterns show that these three reaches have correspondingly distinct channel and flood-plain morphologies and dynamics. The aggrading and sediment-rich upper Quinault River has the widest flood plain, widest active channel, greatest number of low-flow channels and flanking gravel bars, and an average channel migration rate of 12.7±3.3 m/year between 1900 and 1994. The comparatively sediment-poor lower Quinault River has the narrowest flood plain, narrowest active channel, and lowest channel migration rate (4.0±1.2 m/year); and most flow is through a single channel with few adjacent gravel bars. The Queets River has attributes intermediate between the lower and upper Quinault Rivers, including an average channel migration rate of 7.5±2.9 m/year. Flood-plain turnover rates are similar for all three reaches, with channels eroding the flood plain at the rate of about 0.2% of the flood-plain area per year, and with corresponding flood-plain half-lives of 300 to 500 years.

Observations from this study and previous studies on the Queets River show that channel and flood-plain dynamics and morphology are affected by interactions between flow, sediment, and standing and entrained wood, some of which likely involve time frames similar to 200–500-year flood-plain half-lives. On the upper Quinault River and Queets River, log jams promote bar growth and consequent channel shifting, short-distance avulsions, and meander cutoffs, resulting in mobile and wide active channels. On the lower Quinault River, large portions of the channel are stable and flow within vegetated flood plains. However, locally, channel-spanning log jams have caused channel avulsions within reaches that have been subsequently mobile for several decades. In all three reaches, log jams appear to be areas of conifer germination and growth that may later further influence channel and flood-plain conditions on long time scales by forming flood-plain areas resistant to channel migration and by providing key members of future log jams. Appreciation of these processes and dynamics and associated temporal and spatial scales is necessary to formulate effective long-term approaches to managing fluvial ecosystems in forested environments.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Flood plain and channel dynamics of the Quinault and Queets Rivers, Washington, USA
Series title Geomorphology
DOI 10.1016/S0169-555X(02)00324-0
Volume 51
Issue 1-3
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Washington Water Science Center
Description 29 p.
First page 31
Last page 59
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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