The Palouse River basin covers about 3,300 square miles in southeastern Washington and northwestern Idaho. The eastern part of the basin is composed of steptoes and foothills which are generally above an altitude of 2,600 feet; the central part is of moderate local relief and is mantled chiefly by thick loess deposits; and the western part is characterized by low relief and scabland topography and is underlain mostly by basalt.
Precipitation increases eastward across the study area. It ranges annually from 12 to 18 inches in the western part and from 14 to 23 inches in the central part, and it exceeds 40 inches in the eastern part.
Surface runoff from the basin for the 4-year period of study (July 1961-June 1965) averaged 408,000 acre-feet per year, compared with 445,200 acre-feet per year for the 27-year period of record. The eastern part of the basin contributed about 55 percent of the total, whereas the central and western parts contributed 37 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Most sediment transport from the Palouse River basin and the highest sediment concentrations in streams occurred in the winter. Of the several storms during the study period, those of February 3-9, 1963, December 22-27, 1964, and January 27-February 4, 1965, accounted for 81 percent of the total 4-year suspended-sediment load; the storm of February 3-9, 1963, accounted for nearly one-half the total load. The discharge-weighted mean concentration of suspended sediment carried in the Palouse River past Hooper during the study period was 2,970 milligrams per liter.
The average annual sediment discharge of the Palouse River at its mouth was about 1,580,000 tons per year, and the estimated average annual sediment yield was 480 tons per square mile. The yield ranged from 5 tons per square mile from the western part of the basin to 2,100 tons per square mile from the central part. The high yield from the central part is attributed to a scarcity of vegetal cover, to the fine-grained loess soils, and to rapid runoff during winter storms. Sediment yield from the eastern part of the basin ranged from 460 to more than 1,000 tons per square mile.
During high flow, silt particles make up the largest part of the suspended-sediment load, whereas during low flow, clay particles represent the greatest part. On the average, the suspended sediment transported by the Palouse River past Hooper contained 3 percent sand, 68 percent silt, and 29 percent clay. Unmeasured sediment discharge was estimated to have been 5 percent of the total sediment discharge.
Data collected during the 4-year period of study show that sediment loads were higher than those recorded by V. G. Kaiser during the longer period 1939-65. Whereas Kaiser's study showed an average annual soil loss of 9.6 million tons, the average annual loss during the recent study was 14.2 million tons.
The factor that has had the greatest effect on the increase of sediment yields is land use. Lands once covered and protected by natural vegetation have been extensively, cultivated, and much of the soil has become susceptible to erosion, particularly in areas mantled by loessal soils.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Sediment transport by streams in the Palouse River basin, Washington and Idaho, July 1961-June 1965