Flood-Related Channel Change in an Arid-Region River

Document Type


Subject Area(s)

Geography, Physical; Geosciences, Multidisciplinary


A review of 112 years of change in the channel of the Salt River, central Arizona, U.S.A., shows that this arid-region river has a main-flow channel that has migrated laterally up to 1.6 km (1 mi) in response to floor events. Maps showing locational probabilities indicate that along the channel zones of relative locational stability alternate with zones of relative instability at a 3.2 km (2 mi) interval. Construction of upstream reservoirs has reduced sediment input into the main river but has not controlled floods. The channel width has not changed except for moderate fluctuations around mean values; the main-flow channel has incised approximately 6 m (20 ft) over most of the 48 km (30 mi) study reach during six recent floods. Gradient has remained unchanged. During floods bed material was mobilized to a depth below the original bed level that was greater than the height of the water surface above the original bed. Calculations based on tractive force indicate a threshold discharge of instability that is equal to the flow with a five-year return interval. The river exhibits remarkable stability with respect to gradient and sinuosity, irrespective of water and sediment discharges, but horizontal channel location exhibited selective instability. Over the record period of more than a century, the channel appears not to have been in equilibrium considering geometry, discharge, and sediment.

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