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Michigan Water Science Center

Historical and Simulated Changes in Channel Characteristics of the Kalamazoo River, Plainwell to Otsego, Michigan

In collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region V, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

By: Cynthia M. Rachol, Faith A. Fitzptrick, and Tiffiny Rossi

U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5044

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In a study to understand the historical effects of the construction and decommissioning of dams on the Kalamazoo River, Plainwell to Otsego, Michigan, and to simulate channel changes that may result if the dams were removed, early to mid-1800s General Land Office surveys and aerial photographs from 1938, 1981, and 1999 were compared in order to identify historical changes in the riverís planform. This analysis of the 80-mile reach from Morrow Dam to the river mouth at Saugatuck provided insight into how susceptible the river has been to channel migration. The comparison showed that changes in channel width and location were caused mainly by construction of dams and subsequent water-level adjustments in the impounded reaches upstream from the dams. Braiding also occurred downstream from one of the dams. Minor changes in channel form that were not caused by the dams, such as the development and cutoff of meander bends, were observed.

A more detailed study in a 5-mile reach passing through the Plainwell and Otsego City Dams included compiling existing valley cross section and longitudinal profile data into a database, assessing bank stability, and using a hydrologic model to simulate the channel as if the dams were removed. Fifty-four valley cross sections compiled from United States Geological Survey and consultant data sets were used as a base for a bank-stability assessment and to design a hypothetical stable channel without the two dams. The channel design involved adjusting the slope, hydraulic geometry, and flood-plain width to ensure that water could be transferred through the reach without increasing flooding or erosion problems.

The bank-stability assessment focused on conditions that are critical to failure. This was accomplished through the use of a two step process. The first involved evaluating the sediment removed from the bank toe when the stage is high. The second involved calculating the factor of safety for the bank based on the water table being elevated higher than the stage, mimicing a bank storage effect. Using these paired proccesses, two scenarios of critical conditions were evaluated: dams present and dams removed.

Results of the bank assessments showed that, under both critical-condition scenarios, the streambanks were more susceptible to toe erosion than to block failure. As toe erosion progresses, the banks will eventually collapse as supporting material underneath is removed. Toe erosion for the dams-removed scenario resulted in higher amounts of erosion than for the dams-present scenario, leading to an overall decrease in bank stability. Effects of vegetation on the bank stability were variable; stability for some banks increase if vegetation was present but remain the same for other banks.


Rachol, Cynthia M., Faith A. Fitzpatrick, and Tiffiny Rossi, Historical and Simulated Changes in Channel Characteristics of the Kalamazoo River, Plainwell to Otsego, Michigan, Date Posted: August 30, 2005, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5044, 67p. []


Purpose and Scope
History of the Kalamazoo River dams
Kalamazoo River Drainage Basin Characteristics
Geomorphic processes and bank-stability concepts
Analysis of Historical Documents and Aerial Photographs
Longitudinal Profile Development
Valley and Channel Cross-Section Data Collection and Aggregation
Streambank-Stability Assessment
Historical and Simulated Changes in Channel Characteristics
Channel Planform Changes from 1830s to 1999
Longitudinal Profiles
Valley Cross Sections
Streambank Stability
Summary and Conclusions
References Cited
Appendix A. Valley and designed channel cross sections for the Kalamazoo River from Plainwell to Otsego, Michigan
Appendix B. Geotechnical parameters from field tests of streambanks for the KalamazooRiver from Plainwell to Otsego, Michigan
Appendix C. Maps showing channel change from early to mid-1830s to 1999 at selectedlocations on the Kalamazoo River, Michigan

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For further information, contact:
Jim Nicholas, Director
U.S. Geological Survey
Michigan Water Science Center
6520 Mercantile Way, Suite 5
Lansing, MI 48911-5991
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