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Open-File Report 2012–1064

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of State Lands

Preliminary Assessment of Channel Stability and Bed-Material Transport in the Coquille River Basin, Southwestern Oregon

By Krista L. Jones, Jim E. O’Connor, Mackenzie K. Keith, Joseph F. Mangano, and J. Rose Wallick

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (14.8 MB)Significant Findings

This report summarizes a preliminary study of bed-material transport, vertical and lateral channel changes, and existing datasets for the Coquille River basin, which encompasses 2,745 km2 (square kilometers) of the southwestern Oregon coast. This study, conducted to inform permitting decisions regarding instream gravel mining, revealed that:

  • The 115.4-km-long study area on the South Fork and mainstem Coquille River can be divided into four reaches on the basis of topography and hydrology. In the fluvial (nontidal, or dominated by riverine processes) reaches on the South Fork Coquille River, the channel consists of bedrock and alluvium in the Powers Reach and mostly alluvium in the Broadbent Reach. In both fluvial reaches, the channel alternates between confined and unconfined segments and contains gravel bars. In the tidally affected Myrtle Point and Bandon Reaches, the channel consists of alluvial deposits and contains sparse gravel and sand bars as well as expansive mud flats and tidal marshes near the Coquille River mouth.
  • The 15.4- and 14.6-km-long study areas on the Middle and North Forks of the Coquille River, respectively, were treated as distinct reaches. The channel beds consist of mixed bedrock and alluvium in the Bridge Reach on the Middle Fork Coquille River and alluvium in the Gravelford Reach on the North Fork Coquille River. Both of these reaches contain fewer bars than the Powers and Broadbent Reaches on the South Fork Coquille River and are predominately fluvial.
  • Channel condition, bed-material transport, and the distribution and area of bars have likely been influenced by logging and splash damming, dredging and wood removal for navigation, historical and ongoing instream gravel mining, gold mining, fires, and mass movements. These anthropogenic and natural disturbances likely have varying effects on channel condition and sediment flux throughout the study area and over time.
  • Available data include at least eight sets of aerial and orthophotographs that were taken of the study area from 1939 to 2011 that are available for assessing long-term changes in channel condition, bar area, and vegetation establishment patterns. Additionally, a high-resolution Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) survey conducted in 2008 for nearly the entire study area would be useful in future quantitative analyses of channel morphology and bed-material transport.
  • Previous studies found (1) substantial bank erosion in the Broadbent Reach, resulting in banks with near vertical profiles and heights exceeding 7.6 m, (2) erosion of over 40,000 square meters of riparian land from 1939 to 1992, (3) incision along the South Fork Coquille River, and (4) potential for lateral channel migration at several locations along the mainstem and South Fork Coquille River.
  • A review of deposited and mined bed-material estimates derived largely from repeat surveys at instream mining sites on the South Fork Coquille River indicates that bed material transported by the river tends to rebuild mined bar surfaces in most years. Reported annual deposition volumes for 1996–2009 indicate average transport of over 34,700 cubic meters per year (m3/yr) of bed material into the South Fork Coquille River study area.
  • The spatial variation in the number and area of gravel bars is controlled by factors such as valley confinement, channel slope, basin geology, and tidal extent. The Powers and Broadbent Reaches of the South Fork Coquille River have the greatest abundance of gravel bars, likely owing to a substantial area of the South Fork Coquille River basin draining the gravel-producing Klamath Mountains geologic province.
  • From 1939 to 2009, the fluvial reaches all had a net loss in bar area, ranging from 24 percent in the Powers Reach to 56 percent in the Bridge Reach. In the Powers and Broadbent Reaches, the declines in active bar area were associated primarily with vegetation establishment on bar surfaces and lateral bar erosion. The reductions in active bar area were attributed to vegetation establishment in the Bridge and Gravelford Reaches as well as some lateral bar erosion in the Bridge Reach.
  • In contrast, the tidal Myrtle Point and Bandon Reaches had a net increase in bar area (28 and 29 percent, respectively) from 1939 to 2009. In the Myrtle Point Reach, these increases in bar area were primarily attributed to lateral channel migration that led to the deposition of bed material at newly formed bars. In the Bandon Reach, bar area increased primarily in the lower 5.4 km of the reach owing possibly to factors such as tide differences between the photographs and sediment deposition.
  • Analyses of multiple channel cross sections along the South Fork Coquille River as well as historical stage-discharge data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at Powers, Oregon, indicate that the bed of the South Fork Coquille River has locally lowered, as much as 1.9 m from 1994 to 2008 for one site in the Broadbent Reach. Stage-discharge data indicate persistent incision at the Powers site since 1939 (with a net incision of about 0.3 m) that has been interrupted by episodic aggradation apparently corresponding with large floods.
  • For the Bridge and Gravelford Reaches on the Middle and North Forks of the Coquille River, channel cross sections indicate a mix of aggradation and incision as well as bank erosion and deposition from 1992 to 2010 and 2000 to 2009, respectively.
  • Cross sections in the tidal reaches indicate local incision of 0.4 m in at one site in the Myrtle Point Reach from 2004 to 2008 and 0.5 m at one site in in the Bandon Reach from 2000 to 2010.
  • On the South Fork Coquille River, the median diameter of surface particles varied from 78.0 mm (millimeters) at China Flat Bar slightly upstream of the study area to 48.8 mm at Seals Bar in the Broadbent Reach. The armoring ratio (or ratio of the median grain sizes of the surface and subsurface layers) for Seals Bar was 3.5, indicating that the river’s transport capacity likely exceeds sediment supply at this site.
  • Most fluvial reaches in the Coquille River study area are likely supply-limited, meaning that the river’s transport capacity exceeds the supply of bed-material, as indicated by the intermittent bedrock outcrops in the Powers and Bridge Reaches and the paucity of bars in the Bridge and Gravelford Reaches.
  • The Broadbent Reach of the South Fork Coquille River may be presently and probably was historically transport-limited, meaning that bed-material transport is primarily a function of local transport capacity. However, the locally coarse bed texture, high armoring ratio measured at Seals Bar, and recent channel incision indicate that sediment supply has likely diminished relative to transport capacity in recent decades.
  • Because of exceedingly low gradients, the tidal Myrtle Point and Bandon Reaches are transport limited. Bed material in these reaches is primarily sand and finer grain-size material, much of which is probably transported as suspended load from upstream reaches. The tidal reaches will be most susceptible to watershed conditions affecting the supply and transport of fine sediment.
  • Compared to the nearby Chetco and Rogue Rivers and Hunter Creek on the southwestern Oregon coast, the Coquille River likely has lower overall transport of gravel bed material. While the conclusion of lower bed-material transport in the Coquille River is tentative in the absence of actual transport measurements or transport capacity calculations, empirical evidence including the much lower area and frequency of bars for most of the Coquille River study area and the head of tide reaching to RKM (river kilometer) 63.2 on the South Fork Coquille River supports this conclusion.
  • More detailed investigations of bed-material transport rates and channel morphology would support assessments of lateral and vertical channel condition and longitudinal trends in bed material. Such assessments would be most practical for the Powers and Broadbent Reaches and relevant to several ongoing management and ecological issues pertaining to sand and gravel transport. The tidal Bandon and Myrtle Point Reaches may also be logical subjects for in-depth analyses of fine sediment deposition and transport (and associated channel and riparian conditions and processes) rather than coarse bed material.

First posted April 18, 2012

For additional information contact:
Director, Oregon Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
2130 SW 5th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97201

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Suggested citation:

Jones, K.L., O’Connor, J.E., Keith, M.K., Mangano, J.F., and Wallick, J.R., 2012, Preliminary assessment of channel stability and bed-material transport in the Coquille River basin, southwestern Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1064, 84 p.


Significant Findings


Locations and Reporting Units

The Coquille River

Approach and Key Findings

Discussion and Synthesis

Outstanding Issues and Possible Approaches


References Cited

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