Variation of alluvial-channel width with discharge and character of sediment

Water-Resources Investigations Report 79-15




Use of channel measurements to estimate discharge characteristics of alluvial streams has shown that little agreement exists for the exponent of the width-discharge relation. For the equation Q = aWAb, where Q is mean discharge and WA is active-channel width, it is proposed that the exponent, b, should be of fixed value for most natural, perennial, alluvial stream channels and that the coefficient, a, varies with the characteristics of the bed and bank material.

Three groups of perennial stream channels with differing characteristics were selected for study using consistent procedures of data collection. A common feature of the groups was general channel stability, that is, absence of excessive widening by erosive discharges. Group 1 consisted of 32 channels of gradient exceeding 0.0080, low suspended-sediment discharge, high channel roughness, and low discharge variability. Group 2 consisted of 13 streams in Kansas having at least 70 percent silt and clay in the bed material and having similar discharge variability, climate, gradient, and riparian vegetation. Group 3, in southern Missouri, consisted of discharge channels of 18 springs having similar conditions of very low discharge variability, climate and vegetation, but variable bed and bank material. Values for the exponent for the three groups of data are 1.98, 1.97, and 1.97, respectively, whereas values of the coefficients are 0.017, 0.042, and 0.011 when discharge is expressed in cubic meters per second and width is in meters. The relation for high-gradient channels (group 1) is supported by published data from laboratory flumes.

The similarity of the three values of the exponent demonstrates that a standard exponent of 2.0, significant to two figures, is reasonable for the width-mean discharge relation of perennial, alluvial stream channels, and that the exponent is independent of other variables. Using a fixed exponent of 2.0, a family of simple power-function equations was developed expressing the manner in which channel sediment affects the width-discharge relation.

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USGS Numbered Series
Variation of alluvial-channel width with discharge and character of sediment
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Water-Resources Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
iv, 11 p.