Channel change and bed-material transport in the Umpqua River basin, Oregon

Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5041

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
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The Umpqua River drains 12,103 square kilometers of western Oregon; with headwaters in the Cascade Range, the river flows through portions of the Klamath Mountains and Oregon Coast Range before entering the Pacific Ocean. Above the head of tide, the Umpqua River, along with its major tributaries, the North and South Umpqua Rivers, flows on a mixed bedrock and alluvium bed, alternating between bedrock rapids and intermittent, shallow gravel bars composed of gravel to cobble-sized clasts. These bars have been a source of commercial aggregate since the mid-twentieth century. Below the head of tide, the Umpqua River contains large bars composed of mud and sand. Motivated by ongoing permitting and aquatic habitat concerns related to in-stream gravel mining on the fluvial reaches, this study evaluated spatial and temporal trends in channel change and bed-material transport for 350 kilometers of river channel along the Umpqua, North Umpqua, and South Umpqua Rivers. The assessment produced (1) detailed mapping of the active channel, using aerial photographs and repeat surveys, and (2) a quantitative estimation of bed-material flux that drew upon detailed measurements of particle size and lithology, equations of transport capacity, and a sediment yield analysis. Bed-material transport capacity estimates at 45 sites throughout the South Umpqua and main stem Umpqua Rivers for the period 1951-2008 result in wide-ranging transport capacity estimates, reflecting the difficulty of applying equations of bed-material transport to a supply-limited river. Median transport capacity values calculated from surface-based equations of bedload transport for each of the study reaches provide indications of maximum possible transport rates and range from 8,000 to 27,000 metric tons per year (tons/yr) for the South Umpqua River and 20,000 to 82,000 metric tons/yr for the main stem Umpqua River upstream of the head of tide; the North Umpqua River probably contributes little bed material. A plausible range of average annual transport rates for the South and main stem Umpqua Rivers, based on bedload transport capacity estimates for bars with reasonable values for reference shear stress, is between 500 and 20,000 metric tons/yr. An empirical bed-material yield analysis predicts 20,000-50,000 metric tons/yr on the South Umpqua River and main stem Umpqua River through the Oregon Coast Range, decreasing to approximately 30,000 metric tons/yr at the head of tide. Surveys of individual mining sites in the South Umpqua River indicate minimum local bed-material flux rates that are typically less than 10,000 metric tons/yr but range up to 30,600 metric tons/yr in high-flow years. On the basis of all of these analyses, actual bedload flux in most years is probably less than 25,000 metric tons/yr in the South Umpqua and main stem Umpqua Rivers, with the North Umpqua River probably contributing negligible amounts. For comparison, the estimated annual volume of commercial gravel extraction from the South Umpqua River between 2001 and 2004 ranged from 610 to 36,570 metric tons, indicating that historical in-stream gravel extraction may have been a substantial fraction of the overall bedload flux.

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Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Channel change and bed-material transport in the Umpqua River basin, Oregon
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Oregon Water Science Center, Utah Water Science Center
viii, 110 p.; Appendices; Abstract; Table of Contents; List of Figures; List of Tables; Appendix A; Appendix B; Appendix C
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