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WHEN THE BLUE-GREEN WATERS TURN RED

Historical Flooding in Havasu Creek, Arizona

By Theodore S. Melis, William M. Phillips, Robert H. Webb, and Donald J. Bills

U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 96—4059

Abstract

Havasu Creek, the second largest tributary of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, attracts numerous visitors each year owing to its spectacular scenery. Perennial streamflow seldom exceeds 2 cubic meters per second (m3/s), but supports important stands of riparian vegetation, forms unique travertine pools, and spills over spectacular waterfalls. Havasu Canyon is home to the Havasupai Tribe, consisting of 423 members living in Supai, Arizona. Flooding in Havasu Creek poses a hazard to both visitors and residents of Supai. Frequent, large floods occurred in winter and summer during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; the largest occurred in January 1910. Smaller, summer floods occurred between 1935 and 1990. In September 1990, the largest flood in Havasu Creek since 1935, and possibly 1910, was generated by intense thunderstorms that lasted several days. The 1990 flood peaked at 575 m33/s, caused severe damage to Supai, killed hundreds of ash trees (Fraxinus sp.), and altered travertine deposits in lower Havasu Canyon. Smaller floods in July 1992 and February 1993 also damaged Supai, eroded waterfalls, destroyed riparian vegetation, filled pools with gravel, and deposited coarse debris in the Colorado River. Most ash trees in Havasu Canyon germinated after 1940; peak recruitment occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s, possibly in response to human disturbance. Nearly 80 percent of historical Havasu Creek floods have occurred during or immediately following El Niño years. Recent 1990s flooding reflects the flood regime of the first third of the 20th century, and frequency of intense daily precipitation at stations near Havasu Creek has followed patterns in recent flood frequency.


Contents

Frontispiece

Abstract

Introduction

Physical Setting of Havasu Creek

Recreation and Habitation Within Havasu Canyon

Purpose and Scope

Sources of Information on Floods in Havasu Creek

Units and Place Names

Acknowledgments

Methods

Historical Accounts of Flooding

19th-Century Flooding

Floods of 1904-1905

The Flood of January 2, 1910

The Flood of February 23, 1920

The Floods of August 1921

The Flood of August 1, 1928

The Flood of July 1935

Regional Flooding of 1939

Flooding from 1940 to 1970

Small Floods in the summer of 1970

The Floods Between 1970 and 1990

The Flood of September 3, 1990

The Flood of July 25, 1992

The Flood of February 20, 1993

Summary of Historic Flood Accounts

Photographic Evidence of Flood Damage in Havasu Canyon

Havasu Canyon near Supai

Fiftyfoot Falls

Navajo Falls

Havasu Falls

Havasupai Campground

Mooney Falls

Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls

Beaver Falls

Beaver Falls to the Colorado River

The Confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River

Summary of Photographic Evidence

Dendrochronology of Ash Trees

Response of Riparian Forest to Flooding

Summary and Discussion

Hydroclimatology of Floods in the Havasu Creek Drainage Basin

Summary and Discussion

Discussion and Conclusions

References Cited


For more information about USGS water resources studies in Arizona, visit the USGS Arizona Water Science Center home page: http://az.usgs.gov

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