The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 produced a debris avalanche that flowed down the upper reaches of the North Fork Toutle River in southwestern Washington, clogging this drainage with sediment. In response to continuous anomalously high sediment flux into the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers resulting from this avalanche and associated debris flows, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a Sediment Retention Structure (SRS) on the North Fork Toutle River in May 1989. For one decade, the SRS effectively blocked most of the sediment transport down the Toutle River. In 1999, the sediment level behind the SRS reached the elevation of the spillway base. Since then, a higher percentage of sediment has been passing the SRS and increasing the flood risk in the Cowlitz River. Currently (2012), the dam is filling with sediment at a rate that cannot be sustained for its original design life, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is concerned with the current ability of the SRS to manage floods. This report presents an assessment of the ability of the dam to pass large flows from three types of scenarios (it is assumed that no damage to the spillway will occur). These scenarios are (1) a failure of the debris-avalanche blockage forming Castle Lake that produces a dambreak flood, (2) a debris flow from failure of that blockage, or (3) a debris flow originating in the crater of Mount St. Helens. In each case, the flows are routed down the Toutle River and through the SRS using numerical models on a gridded domain produced from a digital elevation model constructed with existing topography and dam infrastructure. The results of these simulations show that a structurally sound spillway is capable of passing large floods without risk of overtopping the crest of the dam. In addition, large debris flows originating from Castle Lake or the crater of Mount St. Helens never reach the SRS. Instead, debris flows fill the braided channels upstream of the dam and reduce its storage capacity.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Effects of catastrophic floods and debris flows on the sediment retention structure, North Fork Toutle River, Washington
U.S. Geological Survey
Volcano Science Center
iv, 25 p.
Castle Lake;Cowlitz River;Mount St. Helens;North Fork Toutle River