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Suspended-sediment concentrations, loads, total suspended solids, turbidity, and particle-size fractions for selected rivers in Minnesota, 2007 through 2011

February 3, 2014

Sediment-laden rivers and streams pose substantial environmental and economic challenges. Excessive sediment transport in rivers causes problems for flood control, soil conservation, irrigation, aquatic health, and navigation, and transports harmful contaminants like organic chemicals and eutrophication-causing nutrients. In Minnesota, more than 5,800 miles of streams are identified as impaired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) due to elevated levels of suspended sediment.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the MPCA, established a sediment monitoring network in 2007 and began systematic sampling of suspended-sediment concentrations (SSC), total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity in rivers across Minnesota to improve the understanding of fluvial sediment transport relations. Suspended-sediment samples collected from 14 sites from 2007 through 2011 indicated that the Zumbro River at Kellogg in the driftless region of southeast Minnesota had the highest mean SSC of 226 milligrams per liter (mg/L) followed by the Minnesota River at Mankato with a mean SSC of 193 mg/L. During the 2011 spring runoff, the single highest SSC of 1,250 mg/L was measured at the Zumbro River. The lowest mean SSC of 21 mg/L was measured at Rice Creek in the northern Minneapolis- St. Paul metropolitan area.

Total suspended solids (TSS) have been used as a measure of fluvial sediment by the MPCA since the early 1970s; however, TSS concentrations have been determined to underrepresent the amount of suspended sediment. Because of this, the MPCA was interested in quantifying the differences between SSC and TSS in different parts of the State. Comparisons between concurrently sampled SSC and TSS indicated significant differences at every site, with SSC on average two times larger than TSS concentrations. The largest percent difference between SSC and TSS was measured at the South Branch Buffalo River at Sabin, and the smallest difference was observed at the Des Moines River at Jackson.

Regression analysis indicated that 7 out of 14 sites had poor or no relation between SSC and streamflow. Only two sites, the Knife River and the Wild Rice River at Twin Valley, had strong correlations between SSC and streamflow, with coefficient of determination (R2) values of 0.82 and 0.80, respectively. In contrast, turbidity had moderate to strong relations with SSC at 10 of 14 sites and was superior to streamflow for estimating SSC at all sites. These results indicate that turbidity may be beneficial as a surrogate for SSC in many of Minnesota’s rivers.

Suspended-sediment loads and annual basin yields indicated that the Minnesota River had the largest average annual sediment load of 1.8 million tons per year and the largest mean annual sediment basin yield of 120 tons of sediment per year per square mile. Annual TSS loads were considerably lower than suspended-sediment loads. Overall, the largest suspended-sediment and TSS loads were transported during spring snowmelt runoff, although loads during the fall and summer seasons occasionally exceeded spring runoff at some sites.

This study provided data from which to characterize suspended sediment across Minnesota’s diverse geographical settings. The data analysis improves understanding of sediment transport relations, provides information for improving sediment budgets, and documents baseline data to aid in understanding the effects of future land use/land cover on water quality. Additionally, the data provides insight from which to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of best management practices at the watershed scale.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Suspended-sediment concentrations, loads, total suspended solids, turbidity, and particle-size fractions for selected rivers in Minnesota, 2007 through 2011
DOI 10.3133/sir20135205
Authors Chris Ellison, Brett E. Savage, Gregory D. Johnson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2013-5205
Index ID sir20135205
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Minnesota Water Science Center