US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH, VOL. 40, W11301, doi:10.1029/2004WR003279, 2004


Studies of reservoir sedimentation are vital to understanding scientific and management issues related to watershed sediment budgets, depositional processes, reservoir operations, and dam decommissioning. Here we quantify the mass, organic content, and grain-size distribution of a reservoir deposit in northern California by two methods of extrapolating measurements of sediment physical properties from cores to the entire volume of impounded material. Englebright Dam, completed in 1940, is located on the Yuba River in the Sierra Nevada foothills. A research program is underway to assess the feasibility of introducing wild anadromous fish species to the river upstream of the dam. Possible management scenarios include removing or lowering the dam, which could cause downstream transport of stored sediment. In 2001 the volume of sediments deposited behind Englebright Dam occupied 25.5% of the original reservoir capacity. The physical properties of this deposit were calculated using data from a coring campaign that sampled the entire reservoir sediment thickness (6–32 m) at six locations in the downstream ~3/4 of the reservoir. As a result, the sediment in the downstream part of the reservoir is well characterized, but in the coarse, upstream part of the reservoir, only surficial sediments were sampled, so calculations there are more uncertain. Extrapolation from one-dimensional vertical sections of sediment sampled in cores to entire three-dimensional volumes of the reservoir deposit is accomplished via two methods, using assumptions of variable and constant layer thickness. Overall, the two extrapolation methods yield nearly identical estimates of the mass of the reservoir deposit of ~26 × 106 metric tons (t) of material, of which 64.7–68.5% is sand and gravel. Over the 61 year reservoir history this corresponds to a maximum basin-wide sediment yield of ~340 t/km2/yr, assuming no contribution from upstream parts of the watershed impounded by other dams. The uncertainties and limitations of the estimates of overall sediment quantities are discussed. Implications for watershed management and future reservoir sedimentation studies are also presented.