Shoals and valley plugs in the Hatchie River watershed

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2000-4279




Agricultural land use and gully erosion have historically contributed more sediment to the streams of the Hatchie River watershed than those streams can carry. In 1970, the main sedimentation problem in the watershed occurred in the tributary flood plains. This problem motivated channelization projects (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1970). By the mid-1980's, concern had shifted to sedimentation in the Hatchie River itself where channelized tributaries were understood to contribute much of the sediment. The Soil Conservation Service [Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) since 1996] estimated that 640,000 tons of bedload (sand) accumulates in the Hatchie River each year and identified roughly the eastern two-thirds of the watershed, where loess is thin or absent, as the main source of sand (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1986a). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the West Tennessee River Basin Authority (WTRBA), conducted a study of sediment accumulation in the Hatchie River and its tributaries. This report identifies the types of tributaries and evaluates sediment, shoal formation, and valley-plug problems. The results presented here may contribute to a better understanding of similar problems in West Tennessee and the rest of the southeastern coastal plain. This information also will help the WTRBA manage sedimentation and erosion problems in the Hatchie River watershed.The source of the Mississippi section of the Hatchie River is in the sand hills southwest of Corinth, Mississippi (fig. 1). This section of the Hatchie River flows northward in an artificial drainage canal, gathering water from tributary streams that also are channelized. The drainage canal ends 2 miles south of the Tennessee State line. The Tennessee section of the Hatchie River winds north and west in a meandering natural channel to the Mississippi River. Although most of the Hatchie River tributaries are also drainage canals, the river's main stem has kept most of its natural character. The Hatchie River flows through a wide valley bottom occupied mostly by riverine wetland. Historically, the valley bottom has supported hardwood forests. Since publication of the first Hatchie River report (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1970), the channel of the river has become shallower, and flooding has increased (U.S. Department of Agriculture 1986b). These wetter conditions inhibit growth of hardwoods and lead to premature hardwood mortality. The NRCS has predicted that despite efforts to control erosion in the uplands, most of the valley-bottom forest will die. '...swamping may be so prevalent as to change most of the Hatchie River Basin flood plain into a marsh condition, with the only remnants of the present bottomland hardwood timber remaining. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1986b) Loss of channel depth has been concentrated in short reaches near tributary mouths. At the mouths of Richland, Porters, Clover, and Muddy Creeks, navigation has become difficult for recreational users (Johnny Carlin, West Tennessee River Basin Authority, oral commun., 1998).As the low-gradient alluvial system of the Hatchie River accumulates sediment, another common outcome has been the formation of valley plugs, areas where 'channels are filled with sediment, and all the additional bedload brought downstream is then spread out over the flood plain until a new channel has been formed' (Happ, 1975). Valley plugs typically form where the slope of a sand-laden tributary decreases downstream, or where the tributary joins its parent stream (Happ and others, 1940; Diehl, 1994, 1997; Smith and Diehl, 2000).

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USGS Numbered Series
Shoals and valley plugs in the Hatchie River watershed
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
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U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey ; Branch of Information Services [distributor],
1 folded sheet; 8 p. :col. ill., col. maps ;28 cm.