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Suspended-sediment concentrations, bedload, particle sizes, surrogate measurements, and annual sediment loads for selected sites in the lower Minnesota River Basin, water years 2011 through 2016

December 20, 2016

Accurate measurements of fluvial sediment are important for assessing stream ecological health, calculating flood levels, computing sediment budgets, and managing and protecting water resources. Sediment-enriched rivers in Minnesota are a concern among Federal, State, and local governments because turbidity and sediment-laden waters are the leading impairments and affect more than 6,000 miles of rivers in Minnesota. The suspended sediment in the lower Minnesota River is deleterious, contributing about 75 to 90 percent of the suspended sediment being deposited into Lake Pepin. The Saint Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District collaborate to maintain a navigation channel on the lower 14.7 miles of the Minnesota River through scheduled dredging operations. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has adopted a sediment-reduction strategy to reduce sediment in the Minnesota River by 90 percent by 2040.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District, collected suspended-sediment, bedload, and particle-size samples at five sites in the lower Minnesota River Basin during water years 2011 through 2014 and surrogate measurements of acoustic backscatter at one of these sites on the lower Minnesota River during water years 2012 through 2016 to quantify sediment loads and improve understanding of sediment-transport relations. Annual sediment loads were computed for calendar years 2011 through 2014.

Data collected from water years 2011 through 2014 indicated that two tributaries, Le Sueur River and High Island Creek, had the highest sediment yield and concentrations of suspended sediment. These tributaries also had greater stream gradients than the sites on the Minnesota River. Suspended fines were greater than suspended sand at all sites in the study area. The range of median particle sizes matched the range for stream gradients from greatest to smallest. Bedload ranged from 3 to 20 percent of the total load at the Le Sueur River, Minnesota River at Mankato, and High Island Creek and was less than 1 percent of the total load at the Minnesota River near Jordan and at Fort Snelling State Park. The reach of the Minnesota River between Mankato and Jordan is a major source of sediment, with the sediment yield at Jordan being two and a half times greater than at Mankato. Between Jordan and Fort Snelling, the sediment yield decreases substantially, which indicates that the Minnesota River in this reach is a sink for sediment. Surrogate measurements (acoustic backscatter) collected with suspended-sediment concentration data from water years 2012 through 2016 from the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling State Park indicated strong relations between the acoustic backscatter and suspended-sediment concentrations. These results point to the dynamic nature of sediment aggradation, degradation, and transport in the Minnesota River Basin. The analyses described in this report will improve the understanding of sediment-transport relations and sediment budgets in the Minnesota River Basin.