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  • Effective discharges of Illinois streams


  • The hydrologic regime of a natural stream is usually highly complex and encompasses a wide range of discharges. The magnitudes and frequencies at which the various discharges occur play a key role in creating the channel's morphology. The concept of 'dominant discharge' proposes that there exists a single steady discharge that, theoretically, if constantly maintained in a stream over a long period of time would form and maintain the same basic stable channel dimensions as those produced by the long-term natural hydrograph. This theoretical discharge is referred to as a stream's dominant discharge. If such a dominant discharge exists and can be accurately calculated, this discharge can be one of the tools that stream restoration personnel use to help design channels that are morphologically stable, i.e., not experiencing either excessive erosion or sediment deposition. There is no direct method to calculate a stream's dominant discharge, and stream researchers have commonly assumed that the dominant discharge can be equated with either the stream's bankfull discharge, a specific flood recurrence interval, or the stream's effective discharge. The purpose of this study is to analyze the available data and existing computational methods for the third approach, that being the estimation of effective discharges specific to Illinois streams. The effective discharge of a stream is defined as the single discharge rate that carries the most sediment over time. Note that the effective discharge is not typically a discharge associated with the most extreme flood events, which may carry large amounts of sediment load but occur infrequently. Instead it is commonly considered to be a moderately high discharge having a more modest load, but occurring frequently enough that in the long-run it carries more sediment than the extreme flood events. To facilitate computations, the effective discharge is estimated as occurring within a discharge class or increment, rather than as a single discharge. Effective discharge can be estimated using data on suspended sediment load, bed load, bed material, or total sediment load, with the method of estimation depending on the sediment transport characteristics of the stream, available data, and, to some degree, the researcher's school of thought. For this study, estimates of effective discharges are based on the suspended sediment load, which is the dominant load in most Illinois streams. Suspended sediment data collected at 88 gaging stations within Illinois were analyzed to determine which gaging stations in Illinois currently have sufficient suspended sediment data available to estimate effective discharges. A procedure was adapted from previous research and implemented to compute effective discharge values for each stream location having sufficient suspended sediment data. For each of those gaging stations, an estimate was made of the flow frequency at which the effective discharge was equaled or exceeded. For stations having adequate sediment data, flood recurrence intervals associated with effective discharge values were computed using annual maximum flow data. Correlation coefficients (r2) for 12 linear regressions are presented to describe the relationship between six effective discharge parameters and channel slope and watershed area. The data from 20 of the 88 gaging stations were deemed sufficient for computing effective discharge values. These 20 gaging stations were located on streams with watershed areas ranging from 244 to 6363 square miles (mi2). The relatively large watershed areas allow use of mean daily discharge values in computing effective discharge values. The annual maximum series analysis indicated that recurrence intervals associated with effective discharges found at these stations ranged from less than 1.01 years to 1.23 years. Such recurrence intervals are on the low end of the 1- to 3-year recurrence intervals commonly reported in other studies. However, these recurrence intervals are representative of Illinois' larger watersheds, and recurrence intervals of effective discharges in smaller Illinois watersheds could be quite different. Of the 20 qualified stations, 20 percent had effective discharge estimates that were less than the station's average mean daily discharge. Such low magnitude flow events are not usually associated with a stream's dominant discharge. Thus, geomorphic assessments and bankfull computations are required to further assess whether these and other effective discharge values are representative of the 20 individual streams' dominant discharges. Due to the small sample size, regression analyses relating specific effective discharge parameters to channel slope and watershed area were inconclusive. Effective discharge computations are particularly sensitive to how the sediment rating curve used in the computation is developed and the number of discharge classes used in the computation. The sampling frequency and duration over which the sediment samples used to create sediment rating curves also may influence effective discharge computations significantly. Thus, while stream restoration personnel will likely continue to use these and other effective discharge values as part of several tools in hydraulic and channel design applications, uncertainties in their use should be acknowledged and undue weight should not be assigned these values, as they cannot yet be expected to yield fully reliable results in applications. Like previous researchers, we recommend more comprehensive investigations that compare effective discharge estimates to bankfull discharges in combination with a geomorphic assessment of each stream's characteristics to yield a better understanding of whether currently computed effective discharge values adequately represent dominant discharges in Illinois. Suspended sediment represents the dominant sediment load in most Illinois streams. In some cases, effective discharge computations based on total loads or bed material loads may be more appropriate than using suspended sediment loads analyzed here. However, the bed load, bed material, bank material, local channel slope, and channel cross-section information required to perform these computations and analyses are almost nonexistent. While many of these data can be collected at selected stream locations, inherent difficulties in estimating bed loads in Illinois streams make this approach unfeasible. New technologies for sampling or estimating bed load most likely would need to be developed and tested. This analysis presents a comprehensive assessment of effective discharges based on the available suspended sediment and flow data in Illinois. Long-term sediment data sets are needed at more stream locations to more fully estimate and understand effective and dominant discharges in Illinois streams. The greatest need for additional data is for smaller watersheds less than approximately 200 mi2 because most potential applications of the effective discharge concept in stable channel design are for smaller watersheds. Smaller watersheds also may have significantly different geomorphic characteristics and effective discharges may behave differently than those in larger watersheds. The Illinois State Water Survey currently is measuring suspended sediment at gaging stations on 13 small watersheds, which could prove very useful in effective discharge analysis as longer data records become available at these sites.

Originally Deposited as: 999999994348

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Language(s): EN-English

Volume or Year: 2002
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Date Created: 9 24 2004
Date Last Modified: 4 28 2003

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