Effect of watershed disturbance and river-tributary confluences on watershed sedimentation dynamics in the Western Allegheny Plateau

Ciara Pickering, William I. Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have increased in the Ohio River Basin over the past decade. Fine sediment dynamics are now recognized to play an important role in the proliferation and toxicity of HABs. As a result, the fate of sediment at confluences of tributaries and regulated river systems may be important zones for sediment retention and burial. The objective of this study was to improve understanding of watershed sediment loading dynamics and backwater inundation impacts on sedimentation within confluence watersheds. The study site selected for this work was the Fourpole Creek watershed in the Western Allegheny Plateau ecoregion of Appalachia, which is a mixed-use watershed with predominantly forested and urban landcover with a backwater floodplain wetland at the confluence with the Ohio River. Approximately 16 months of high-frequency (15-minute) turbidity data was used as a surrogate for total suspended solids at upstream and downstream nodes of the backwater confluence feature. Continuous sediment yield estimates suggested an annual sediment yield of 82 t/km2 and was found to be higher than sediment yields reported elsewhere in Appalachian watersheds without mining disturbances. A modified sediment rating curve using both seasonal and annual regression approaches were found to underpredict sediment yield by 29% and 80%, respectively. A hysteresis-based source unmixing method and hysteresis index were used to quantify sediment source and flow pathways during events and suggested high variability in sediment source contributions both seasonally and within-seasons, suggesting three likely sediment sources in the watershed including in-channel/gully erosion, resuspension of recently deposited sediment in the fluvial network, and erosion of subsurface macropores from forested uplands. Upstream-downstream monitoring of the confluence floodplain suggested 34% of the annual sediment inputs were retained during the continuously monitored 2019 calendar year. Our results suggest that confluence floodplains play an important role in intercepting and storing sediment inputs. Efforts to limit downstream sediment loads should ensure the function of confluence floodplains is maintained or enhanced when considering watershed management strategies in these landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126784
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Volume602
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge funding support for this research from the National Science Foundation ( NSF-1632888 and NSF-1458952 ), and the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering department at the University of Kentucky. We thank the Huntington Stormwater Utility, specifically Sherry Wilkins and Stan Wonnell for their assistance and support on sensor placement and floodwall station access. We thank Austin Hoffman and the numerous undergraduate and graduate students (Alex Jensen, Nolan Bunnell, Gina DeGraves, and Cory Radcliff) at the University of Kentucky who assisted the authors with data collection and analysis efforts on the project.

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge funding support for this research from the National Science Foundation (NSF-1632888 and NSF-1458952), and the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering department at the University of Kentucky. We thank the Huntington Stormwater Utility, specifically Sherry Wilkins and Stan Wonnell for their assistance and support on sensor placement and floodwall station access. We thank Austin Hoffman and the numerous undergraduate and graduate students (Alex Jensen, Nolan Bunnell, Gina DeGraves, and Cory Radcliff) at the University of Kentucky who assisted the authors with data collection and analysis efforts on the project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.

Keywords

  • Backwater confluence floodplain
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • High resolution water quality monitoring
  • Mixed-use appalachian watershed
  • Sediment fate and transport
  • Sediment hysteresis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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