Preliminary assessment of channel stability and bed-material transport in the Rogue River basin, southwestern Oregon

Open-File Report 2011-1280
By: , and 



This report summarizes a preliminary assessment of bed-material transport, vertical and lateral channel changes, and existing datasets for the Rogue River basin, which encompasses 13,390 square kilometers (km2) along the southwestern Oregon coast. This study, conducted to inform permitting decisions regarding instream gravel mining, revealed that:

  • The Rogue River in its lowermost 178.5 kilometers (km) alternates between confined and unconfined segments, and is predominately alluvial along its lowermost 44 km. The study area on the mainstem Rogue River can be divided into five reaches based on topography, hydrology, and tidal influence. The largely confined, active channel flows over bedrock and coarse bed material composed chiefly of boulders and cobbles in the Grants Pass (river kilometers [RKM] 178.5–152.8), Merlin (RKM 152.8–132.7), and Galice Reaches (RKM 132.7–43.9). Within these confined reaches, the channel contains few bars and has stable planforms except for locally wider segments such as the Brushy Chutes area in the Merlin Reach. Conversely, the active channel flows over predominately alluvial material and contains nearly continuous gravel bars in the Lobster Creek Reach (RKM 43.9–6.7). The channel in the Tidal Reach (RKM 6.7–0) is also alluvial, but tidally affected and unconfined until RKM 2. The Lobster Creek and Tidal Reaches contain some of the most extensive bar deposits within the Rogue River study area.
  • For the 56.6-km-long segment of the Applegate River included in this study, the river was divided into two reaches based on topography. In the Upper Applegate River Reach (RKM 56.6–41.6), the confined, active channel flows over alluvium and bedrock and has few bars. In the Lower Applegate River Reach (RKM 41.6–0), the active channel alternates between confined and unconfined segments, flows predominantly over alluvium, shifts laterally in unconfined sections, and contains more numerous and larger bars.
  • The 6.5-km segment of the lower Illinois River included in this study was treated as one reach. This stretch of the Illinois River is fully alluvial, with nearly continuous gravel bars flanking the channel. The width of the active channel is confined by the narrow topography of the valley.
  • The primary human activities that have likely influenced channel condition, bed-material transport, and the extent and area of bars are (1) historical gold mining throughout the basin, (2) historical and ongoing gravel mining from instream sites in the Tidal Reach and floodplain sites such as those in the Lower Applegate River Reach, (3) hydropower and flow control structures, (4) forest management and fires throughout the basin, and (5) dredging. These anthropogenic activities likely have varying effects on channel condition and the transport and deposition of sediment throughout the study area and over time.
  • Several vertical (aspect) aerial photographs (including the complete coverages of the study area taken in 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2009 and the partial coverages taken in 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1990) are available for assessing long-term changes in attributes such as channel condition, bar area, and vegetation cover. A Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) survey performed in 2007–2008 provides 1-m resolution topographic data for sections of the Grants Pass (RKM 178.5–167.6) and Lobster Creek (RKM 17.8–12 and 10–6.7) Reaches and the entire Tidal Reach.
  • Previous studies provide information for specific locations, including (1) an estimated average annual bed-material load of 76,000 m3 at the former Savage Rapids Dam site (RKM 173.1, Grants Pass Reach), (2) over 490 m of channel shifting from 1965 to 1991 in the Brushy Chutes area (RKM 142–141, Merlin Reach), (3) active sediment transport and channel processes in the Lobster Creek Reach, (4) lateral channel migration in the Tidal Reach, and (5) up to 1.8 m of bar aggradation from the town of Agness (RKM 45.1) to the Rogue River mouth following the flood in water year 1997.
  • Review of the repeat surveys conducted at the instream gravel-mining sites on Elephant and Wedderburn Bars tentatively indicated that these bars (1) experience some bed-material deposition in most years and more substantial deposition following high flows such as those in water years 1997 and 2006, and (2) are dynamic and subject to local scour and deposition.
  • Results from the specific gage analyses completed for five long-term USGS streamflow-gaging stations showed that only the Grants Pass station on the Rogue River (RKM 164.4, Grants Pass Reach) experienced substantial changes in the stage–discharge relationship across a range of flows from 1938 to 2009. Observed changes indicate channel incision at this site.
  • The Rogue and Applegate Rivers are dynamic and subject to channel shifting, aggradation, and incision, as indicated by channel cross sections surveyed during 2000–2010 on the Rogue River and 1933–2010 on the Applegate River. The elevation of the riverbed changed substantially (defined here as more than a net 0.5 m of incision or aggradation) at three locations on the Rogue River (near RKM 164.5, 139.2, and 1.3) and two on the Applegate River (near RKM 42 and 13.5).
  • Systematic delineation of bar features from vertical photographs taken in 1967–69, 2005, and 2009 indicated that most of the repeat mapping sites had a net loss in bar area over the analysis period, ranging from 22 percent at the Oak Flat site (Illinois River Reach) to 69 percent at the Thompson Creek site (Upper Applegate River Reach). Bar area remained stable at the Williams Creek site (Lower Applegate River Reach), but increased 11 percent at the Elephant Rock site (Tidal Reach). The declines in bar area were associated primarily with the establishment of vegetation on upper bar surfaces lacking obvious vegetation in the 1960s. Some of the apparent changes in bar area may also owe to some differences in streamflow and tide levels between the vertical photographs.
  • On the mainstem Rogue River, the median diameter of surface particles varied from 21 mm at the Wedderburn Bar in the Tidal Reach to more than 100 millimeters (mm) at some of the coarsest bars in the Galice Reach. Low armoring ratios tentatively indicated that sediment supply likely exceeds transport capacity at Orchard (Lobster Creek Reach) and Wedderburn (Tidal Reach) Bars. Conversely, relatively higher armoring ratios indicated that transport capacity likely is in balance with sediment supply at Roberston Bridge Bar (Merlin Reach) and exceeds sediment supply at Rogue River City (Grants Pass Reach), Solitude Riffle (Galice Reach), and Hooks Gulch (Galice Reach) Bars.
  • Limited particle data were collected in the study areas on the Applegate and Illinois Rivers. Particle size measurements and armoring ratios tentatively show that sediment supply likely exceeds transport capacity at Bakery Bar in the Lower Applegate Reach. Also, the bed material exiting the Applegate River is likely finer than the bed material in the Rogue River, whereas bed material exiting the Illinois River is likely coarser than the bed material in the Rogue River.
  • Together, these observations and findings indicate that (1) the size, area, and overall position of bars in the Rogue River study area are determined largely by valley physiography, such that unconfined alluvial sections have large channel-flanking bars, whereas confined sections have fewer and smaller bars, (2) segments within the Grants Pass, Merlin, Tidal, Upper Applegate River, and Lower Applegate River Reaches are prone to vertical and/or lateral channel adjustments, and (3) the balance between transport capacity and sediment supply varies throughout the study area.
  • High winter flows and the steep, confined character of much of the Rogue River within the study area result in a river corridor with a high capacity to transport bed material. In the Grants Pass and Galice Reaches, the extensive in-channel bedrock as well as the sparse number and coarse texture of bars indicate that these reaches are likely supply-limited, meaning that the river’s transport capacity exceeds the supply of bed material. In contrast, the Lobster Creek and Tidal Reaches and perhaps portions of the Merlin Reach receive bed-material inputs that more closely balance or even exceed the river’s transport capacity.
  • The lowermost reaches on the Illinois and Applegate Rivers are fully alluvial segments that are likely transport limited, meaning sediment supply likely exceeds the river's transport capacity. However, the steeper Upper Applegate River Reach is likely supply-limited as indicated by the sparse number and area of bars mapped in this reach and the intermittent bedrock outcrops in the channel. The sediment loads derived from these large tributaries draining the Klamath Mountains are probably important contributions to the overall transport of bed material in the Rogue River basin.
  • Compared to the slightly smaller Umpqua River basin (drainage area 12,103 km2) to the north, the Rogue River (13,390 km2) likely transports more bed material. Although this conclusion of greater bed-material transport in the Rogue River is tentative in the absence of either actual transport measurements or transport capacity calculations, empirical evidence, including the much greater area and frequency of bars along most of the Rogue River as well as the much shorter tidal reach on the Rogue River (6.7 km) compared to the Umpqua River (40 km) supports this inference.
  • More detailed investigations of bed-material transport rates and channel morphology would support assessments of channel condition, longitudinal trends in particle size, the relation between sediment supply and transport capacity, and the potential causes of bar area loss (such as vegetation establishment and potential changes in peak flow patterns). The reaches most practical for such assessments and relevant to several management and ecological issues are (1) the lower Rogue River basin, including the Lobster Creek and Tidal Reaches of the Rogue River as well as the Illinois River Reach and (2) the Lower Applegate River Reach.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Preliminary assessment of channel stability and bed-material transport in the Rogue River basin, southwestern Oregon
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2011-1280
DOI 10.3133/ofr20111280
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Oregon Water Science Center, Volcano Hazards Program
Description viii, 96 p.
Country United States
State Oregon
County Jackson county, Josephine county
Other Geospatial Rogue River Basin, Applegate River, llinois River
Datum North American Datum 1983
Projection UTM, Zone 10N
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details