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Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5221

Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service

Estimates of Sediment Load Prior to Dam Removal in the Elwha River, Clallam County, Washington

By Christopher A. Curran, Christopher P. Konrad, Johnna L. Higgins, and Mark K. Bryant

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (2.3 MB) Abstract

Years after the removal of the two dams on the Elwha River, the geomorphology and habitat of the lower river will be substantially influenced by the sediment load of the free-flowing river. To estimate the suspended-sediment load prior to removal of the dams, the U.S. Geological Survey collected suspended-sediment samples during water years 2006 and 2007 at streamflow-gaging stations on the Elwha River upstream of Lake Mills and downstream of Glines Canyon Dam at McDonald Bridge. At the gaging station upstream of Lake Mills, discrete samples of suspended sediment were collected over a range of streamflows including a large peak in November 2006 when suspended-sediment concentrations exceeded 7,000 milligrams per liter, the highest concentrations recorded on the river. Based on field measurements in this study and from previous years, regression equations were developed for estimating suspended-sediment and bedload discharge as a function of streamflow. Using a flow duration approach, the average total annual sediment load at the gaging station upstream of Lake Mills was estimated at 327,000 megagrams with a range of uncertainty of +57 to -34 percent (217,000–513,000 megagrams) at the 95 percent confidence level; 77 percent of the total was suspended-sediment load and 23 percent was bedload. At the McDonald Bridge gaging station, daily suspended-sediment samples were obtained using an automated pump sampler, and concentrations were combined with the record of streamflow to calculate daily, monthly, and annual suspended-sediment loads. In water year 2006, an annual suspended-sediment load of 49,300 megagrams was determined at the gaging station at McDonald Bridge, and a load of 186,000 megagrams was determined upstream at the gaging station upstream of Lake Mills. In water year 2007, the suspended-sediment load was 75,200 megagrams at McDonald Bridge and 233,000 megagrams upstream of Lake Mills. The large difference between suspended-sediment loads at both gaging stations shows the extent of sediment trapping by Lake Mills, and a trap efficiency of 0.86 was determined for the reservoir. Pre-dam-removal estimates of suspended-sediment load and sediment-discharge relations will help planners monitor geomorphic and habitat changes in the river as it reaches a dynamic equilibrium following the removal of dams.

For additional information contact:
Director, Washington Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey, 934 Broadway — Suite 300
Tacoma, Washington 98402

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Suggested citation:

Curran, C.A., Konrad, C.P., Higgins, J.L., and Bryant, M.K., 2009, Estimates of sediment load prior to dam removal in the Elwha River, Clallam County, Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5221, 18 p.

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