Magnitude, Frequency, and Duration Relations for Suspended Sediment in Stable (“Reference”) Southeastern Streams1


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    Paper No. JAWRA-07-0028-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA). Discussions are open until February 1, 2009.



Abstract:  Sediment is listed as one of the leading causes of water-quality impairments in surface waters of the United States (U.S.). A water body becomes listed by a State, Territory or Tribe if its designated use is not being attained (i.e., impaired). In many cases, the prescribed designated use is aquatic health or habitat, indicating that total maximum daily loads (TMDL) targets for sediment should be functionally related to this use. TMDL targets for sediment transport have been developed for many ecoregions over the past several years using suspended-sediment yield as a metric. Target values were based on data from “reference” streams or reaches, defined as those exhibiting geomorphic characteristics of equilibrium. This approach has proved useful to some states developing TMDLs for suspended sediment, although one cannot conclude that if a stream exceeds the target range, the aquatic ecosystem will be adversely impacted. To address this problem, historical flow-transport and sediment-transport data from hundreds of sites in the Southeastern U.S. were re-examined to develop parameters (metrics) such as frequency and duration of sediment concentrations. Sites determined as geomorphically stable from field evaluations and from analysis of gauging-station records were sorted by ecoregion. Mean-daily flow data obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey were applied to sediment-transport rating relations to determine suspended-sediment load for each day of record. The frequency and duration that a given concentration was equaled or exceeded were then calculated to produce a frequency distribution for each site. “Reference” distributions were created using the stable sites in each ecoregion by averaging all of the distributions at specified exceedance intervals. As with the “reference” suspended-sediment yields, there is a broad range of frequency and duration distributions that reflects the hydrologic and sediment-transport regimes of the ecoregions. Ecoregions such as the Mississippi Valley Loess Plains (#74) maintain high suspended sediment concentrations for extended periods, whereas coastal plain ecoregions (#63 and 75) show much lower concentrations.