Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Using acoustic Doppler velocity meters to estimate suspended sediment along the lower Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers

February 8, 2019

Lake Pepin is the largest naturally formed lake on the Mississippi River and has complex management needs to satisfy economic, environmental, and cultural demands. Lake Pepin is filling in with sediment at a rapid rate compared to conditions before settlement by European immigrants and intense agricultural cultivation. Accordingly, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has developed aggressive plans to prioritize sediment sources, understand transport mechanisms, and implement large-scale strategies to reduce sedimentation in Lake Pepin.

The Minnesota River is the primary sediment source to Lake Pepin, and reductions in sediment loading from the Minnesota River are needed to reduce sedimentation in Lake Pepin. Current loading estimates were calculated from grab sampling and total suspended solids laboratory methods that greatly underestimate the actual concentrations in the rivers when compared to U.S. Geological Survey width and depth integrated sampling and laboratory methods for determining suspended-sediment concentration (SSC). Therefore, the U.S. Geological Survey, with funding from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lower Minnesota River Watershed District, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, collected SSCs and acoustic backscatter data from acoustic Doppler velocity meters over a 2-year period at nine sites. The purpose of the study was to improve understanding of sediment-transport processes and increase accuracy of estimating SSCs and suspended-sediment loads for the lower Minnesota River and the Mississippi River compared to traditional measures.

The study results indicated that acoustic backscatter worked well in estimating SSCs at sites not regulated by locks, dams, and lakes. The results also confirmed previous studies that determined most of the suspended-sediment loading into the Mississippi River is from the Minnesota River and the largest sediment sink is Lake Pepin. Suspended-sediment loading from site to site and year to year was often variable when compared to streamflow, which has been traditionally used to estimate SSC. As a result, this study demonstrates the value in having high temporal and spatial resolution of continuous sediment monitoring from acoustic devices to help manage the sources of sediment into Lake Pepin.