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Suspended sediment transport trough a large fluvial-tidal channel network

April 23, 2015

The confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, CA, forms a large network of interconnected channels, referred to as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (the Delta). The Delta comprises the transition zone from the fluvial influences of the upstream rivers and tidal influences of San Francisco Bay downstream. Formerly an extensive tidal marsh, the hydrodynamics and geomorphology of Delta have been substantially modified by humans to support agriculture, navigation, and water supply. These modifications, including construction of new channels, diking and draining of tidal wetlands, dredging of navigation channels, and the operation of large pumping facilities for distribution of freshwater from the Delta to other parts of the state, have had a dramatic impact on the physical and ecological processes within the Delta. To better understand the current physical processes, and their linkages to ecological processes, the USGS maintains an extensive network of flow, sediment, and water quality gages in the Delta. Flow gaging is accomplished through use of the index-velocity method, and sediment monitoring uses turbidity as a surrogate for suspended-sediment concentration. Herein, we present analyses of the transport and dispersal of suspended sediment through the complex network of channels in the Delta. The primary source of sediment to the Delta is the Sacramento River, which delivers pulses of sediment primarily during winter and spring runoff events. Upon reaching the Delta, the sediment pulses move through the fluvial-tidal transition while also encountering numerous channel junctions as the Sacramento River branches into several distributary channels. The monitoring network allows us to track these pulses through the network and document the dominant transport pathways for suspended sediment. Further, the flow gaging allows for an assessment of the relative effects of advection (the fluvial signal) and dispersion (from the tides) on the sediment pulses as they move through the system. Herein, we present analyses of the “first flush” sediment pulse that occurred on the Sacramento River in December 2012, documenting the transport pathways as well as the effects of advection and dispersion on the sediment as it moved through the fluvial-tidal transition in the Delta. The analyses identified an important transport pathway through the interior of the Delta toward the large pumping facilities in the south Delta, which has important implications for native fish (because their movements are triggered by sediment/turbidity). The results also reveal the dramatic transition from fluvial-dominated transport (advection) to tidal-dominated transport (dispersion) as the sediment pulse approaches the estuary.

Publication Year 2015
Title Suspended sediment transport trough a large fluvial-tidal channel network
Authors Scott A. Wright, Tara L. Morgan-King
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70139643
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center; San Francisco Bay-Delta