Sediment Budgeting in Dam-Affected Rivers: Assessing the Influence of Damming, Tributaries, and Alluvial Valley Sediment Storage on Sediment Regimes

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Andrew C Wilcox1, Franklin J Dekker1 and Clifford S Riebe2, (1)University of Montana, Geosciences, Missoula, MT, United States, (2)University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, United States
Although sediment supply is recognized as a fundamental driver of fluvial processes, measuring how dams affect sediment regimes and incorporating such knowledge into management strategies remains challenging. To determine the influences of damming, tributary supply, and valley morphology and sediment storage on downstream sediment supply in a dryland river, the Bill Williams River (BWR) in western Arizona, we measured basin erosion rates using cosmogenic nuclide analysis of beryllium-10 (10Be) at sites upstream and downstream of a dam along the BWR, as well as from tributaries downstream of the dam. Riverbed sediment mixing calculations were used to test if the dam, which blocks sediment supply from the upper 85% of the basin’s drainage area, increases the proportion of tributary sediment to residual upstream sediment in mainstem samples downstream of the dam. Erosion rates in the BWR watershed are more than twice as large in the upper catchment (136 t km-2 yr-1) than in tributaries downstream of Alamo Dam (61 t km-2 yr-1). Tributaries downstream of the dam have little influence on mainstem sediment dynamics. The effect of the dam on reducing sediment supply is limited, however, because of the presence of large alluvial valleys along the mainstem BWR downstream of the dam that store substantial sediment and mitigate supply reductions from the upper watershed. These inferences, from our 10Be derived erosion rates and mixing calculations, are consistent with field observations of downstream changes in bed material size, which suggest that sediment-deficit conditions are restricted to a 10 km reach downstream of the dam, and limited reservoir bathymetry data. Many studies have suggested that tributary sediment inputs downstream of dams play a key role in mitigating dam-induced sediment deficits, but here we show that in a dryland river with ephemeral tributaries, sediment stored in alluvial valleys can also play a key role and in some cases trumps the role of tributaries.