Chaco Wash arroyo channel changes in the 20th century have become a major concern of the National Park Service. Several archeologic and cultural sites are located in the Chaco Wash corridor; thus, increased erosional activity of Chaco Wash, such as channel incision and increased meandering, may affect these sites.
Through field surveys, photogrammetric analyses, and reviews of existing reports and maps, arroyo changes at Chaco Culture National Historic Park were documented. Arroyo changes were documented for the inner active channel and the entire arroyo cross section. The inner channel of Chaco Wash evolved from a wide, braided channel in the 1930's to a narrower channel with a well-developed flood plain by the 1970's. From 1934 to 1973 the active channel narrowed an average of 26 meters, and from the 1970's to 2000 the channel narrowed an average of 9 meters. Overall from 1934 to 2000, the inner channel narrowed an average of 30 meters.
From 1934 to 2000, the top of Chaco Wash widened at four cross sections, narrowed at one, and remained the same at another. The top of Chaco Wash widened at a rate of 0.4 meter per year from the 1970's to 2000 compared with 0.2 meter per year from 1934 to 1973. At 50-percent depth or halfway down the arroyo channel, four cross sections widened and two cross sections narrowed from 1934 to 2000. Rates of widening at 50-percent depth decreased from 0.2 meter per year from 1934 to 1973 to 0.1 meter per year from the 1970's to 2000. From 1934 to 2000, arroyo depth decreased at five of six cross sections and increased at one cross section. Arroyo depth between 1934 and 1973 decreased an average 1.4 meters from aggradation and between the 1970's and 2000 increased an average 0.4 meter from channel scour.
From 1934 to 2000, arroyo cross-sectional area decreased at all six cross sections. Cross-sectional areas in Chaco Wash decreased from 1934 to 1973 as a result of sediment deposition and both decreased and increased from the 1970's to 2000. The cross-sectional area decreased by the 1970's due to channel narrowing and flood-plain formation. Increases in cross-sectional area are from channel scour and channel widening. Photogrammetric analyses of volumetric changes for a 1.7-kilometer reach of Chaco Wash showed sediment deposition from 1934 to 1973 of 64 square meters per unit length of channel over 1.7 kilometers to erosion from 1973 to 2000 of 7 square meters per unit length of channel.
Chaco Wash evolved from a braided channel in the 1930's to a narrow, sinuous inner channel by the 1970's. Chaco Wash was widening in the 1930's, leading to sediment deposition and formation of an inner flood plain. Channel narrowing resulted from increased sediment deposition on the flood plain. Sediment deposition may be related to a decrease in peak flows, an increase in flood-plain vegetation, or an increase in the transport of fine-grained sediment. Increases in bankfull depth of Chaco Wash between the 1970's and 2000 were due to aggradation of the flood plain and channel scour. Thus, rates of aggradation and cross-sectional filling were greater from 1934 to the 1970's than from the 1970's to 2000.
Gellis, A.C., 2002, Twentieth century arroyo changes in Chaco Culture National Historical Park: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 01–4251, 42 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/wri014251.
Table of Contents
- Methods for analysis of arroyo changes
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Title||Twentieth century arroyo changes in Chaco Culture National Historical Park|
|Series title||Water-Resources Investigations Report|
|Publisher||U.S. Geological Survey|
|Publisher location||Reston, VA|
|Contributing office(s)||New Mexico Water Science Center|
|Description||iv, 42 p.|