Excessive sediment transport in rivers causes problems for flood control, soil conservation, irrigation, aquatic health, and navigation, as well as transporting harmful contaminants like organic chemicals and eutrophication-causing nutrients. In Minnesota, more than 5,800 miles of streams are identified as impaired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) due to elevated levels of suspended sediment.
The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the MPCA, established a sediment monitoring network in 2007 and began systematic sampling of suspended-sediment concentration (SSC), total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity in rivers across Minnesota to improve the understanding of fluvial sediment transport relations. Suspended-sediment samples were collected from 14 sites from 2007 through 2011. Analyses of these data indicated that the Zumbro River at Kellogg in southeast Minnesota had the highest mean SSC of 226 milligrams per liter (mg/L) followed by the Minnesota River at Mankato with a mean SSC of 193 mg/L. The single highest SSC of 1,250 mg/L was measured at the Zumbro River during the 2011 spring runoff. The lowest mean SSC of 21 mg/L was measured at Rice Creek in the northern Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.
Total suspended solids (TSS) have been used as a measure of fluvial sediment by the MPCA since the early 1970s; however, TSS concentrations have been known to underrepresent the amount of suspended sediment. For this study, comparisons between concurrently sampled SSC and TSS indicated significant differences at every site, with SSC on average two times larger than TSS concentrations.
Regression analysis indicated that 7 out of 14 sites had poor or no relation between SSC and streamflow. Only two sites, the Knife River and the Wild Rice River at Twin Valley, had strong correlations between SSC and streamflow, with coefficient of determination (R2) values of 0.82 and 0.80, respectively. In contrast, turbidity had moderate to strong relations with SSC at 10 of 14 sites and was superior to streamflow for estimating SSC at all sites. Suspended-sediment basin yields indicated that the Minnesota River had the largest mean annual sediment basin yield of 120 tons of sediment per year per square mile.