Multiple high-turbidity events with values greater than 250 Formazin Nephelometric Units occurred in streams of the North Santiam River basin during water years 1999-2004. By using a combination of field reconnaissance, aerial photography, and geographic information systems, eight of these high-turbidity events were investigated and linked to at least one likely source area and became known as 'major turbidity events.' Sediment source type and location, the amount of material transported, and the results of any follow-up investigation of the source area were recorded for each event.
Significant findings from this study include:
* Although heavy precipitation caused basinwide erosion that increased turbidity in streams, a major turbidity event often required at least one landslide or similar type of contributing source to introduce enough sediment to raise the turbidity value to greater than 250 Formazin Nephelometric Units.
* Different processes drove sediment loading at different times. In general, precipitation eroded sediment from source areas or induced landslides. However, in two cases, warm temperatures caused rapid snowmelt, which supplied the water necessary to erode unconsolidated glacial soils or other sediment material and increase turbidity.
* Some source areas, such as existing earthflows, repeatedly supplied a large volume of sediment to streams, whereas other sources, such as landslides or debris flows, were unpredictable and sporadically supplied large volumes of sediment to streams.
* Major turbidity events were well distributed throughout the North Santiam River basin; discrete events were observed in each of the five subbasins along unregulated streams.
* Suspended-sediment loads and clay-water (persistently turbid water) volume estimates were event-specific and varied greatly between major turbidity events, even though, in some cases, the source area was the same; however, high yields generally were observed for events in the Blowout Creek, Breitenbush River, and Little North Santiam River subbasins.
* Suspended-sediment loads for each 3-day precipitation-driven major turbidity event supplied greater than 36 percent of the annual load, and snowmelt-driven events supplied greater than 27 percent of the annual load in a single day.
* Clay-water yields for event periods generally were highest in the Little North Santiam River subbasin. In addition, average annual percentage of clay-water volume during the period of record was highest in the Little North Santiam River. The second highest average was in Blowout Creek.