Sediment transport by streams in the Walla Walla basin, Washington and Oregon, July 1962-June 1965

Water Supply Paper 1868




The Walla Walla River basin covers about 1,760 square miles in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. From the 6,000-foot crest of the Blue Mountains on the east to the 340-foot altitude of Lake Wallula (Columbia River) on the west, the basin is drained by the Touchet River and Dry Creek, entirely within Washington, and by Mill Creek, North and South Forks Walla Walla River, and Pine Creek-Dry Creek, which all head in Oregon. The central lowland of the basin is bordered on the north by Eureka Flat, Touchet slope, and Skyrocket Hills, on the east by the Blue Mountains, and on the south by the Horse Heaven Hills. The basin is underlain by basalt of the Columbia River Group, which .is the only consolidated rock to crop out in the region. Various unconsolidated fluviatile, lacustrine, and eolian sediments cover the basalt. In the western part of the basin the basalt is overlain by lacustrine deposits of silt and sand which in places are mantled by varying thicknesses of loessal deposits. In the northern and central parts of the basin the loess is at least 100 feet thick. The mountainous eastern part of the basin is underlain at shallow depth by basalt which has a residual soil mantle weathered from the rock. The slopes of the mountains are characterized by alluvial fans and deeply cut stream valleys ,filled with alluvium of sand, gravel, and cobbles. Average annual precipitation in the basin ranges from less than 10 inches in the desert-like areas of the west to more than 45 inches in the timbered mountains of the east; 65 percent of the precipitation occurs from October through March. The average runoff from the basin is about 4.8 inches per year. Most of the runoff occurs during late winter and early spring. Exceptionally high runoff generally results from rainfall and rapid melting of snow on partially frozen ground. During the study period, July 1964-June 1965, average annual sediment yields in the basin ranged from 420 tons per square mile in the mountainous area to more than 4,000 tons per square mile in the extensively cultivated northern and central parts of the basin, which are drained by the Touchet River and Dry Creek. The Touchet River and Dry Creek transported approximately 80 percent of the total sediment load discharged from the Walla Walla River basin. The highest concentrations were contributed by the loessal deposits in the Dry Creek drainage. Two runoff events resulting from rain and snowmelt on partially frozen ground produced 76 percent of the suspended sediment discharged from the basin during the study period. The maximum concentration measured, 316,000 milligrams per liter, was recorded for Dry Creek at Lowden on December 23. 1964. Daily suspended-sediment concentrations for the Walla Walla River near Touchet exceeded 700 milligrams per liter about 10 percent of the time, and 14,000 milligrams per liter about 1 percent of the time. The discharge-weighted mean concentration for the 3-year period of study was 7,000 milligrams per liter. Silt predominates in the suspended sediment transported by all streams in the basin. On the average, sediment from streams draining the Blue Mountains was composed of 20 percent sand, 60 percent silt, and 20 percent clay ; for streams draining the Blue Mountains slope-Horse Heaven Hills area, the percentages are 9, 65, and 26, respectively ; and for those draining the Skyrocket Hills-Touchet slope, the percentages are 5, 75, and 20, respectively. The bedload in the mountain and upland streams was estimated to be about 5-12 percent as much as the suspended load. For the Walla Walla River and its tributaries in the lower basin area, the bedload was estimated to be only about 2-8 percent as much as the suspended load.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Sediment transport by streams in the Walla Walla basin, Washington and Oregon, July 1962-June 1965
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
Contributing office(s):
Oregon Water Science Center
iv, 32 p. :illus., maps (1 fold. in pocket) ;23 cm.