Locational Probability for a Dammed, Urban Stream: Salt River, Arizona

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Data from historical aerial photographs analyzed with a GIS show that river channel change on the Salt River in the Phoenix metropolitan area of central Arizona has been driven by large-scale regional flood events and local human activities. Mapping of functional surfaces such as low-flow channels, high-flow channels, islands, bars attached to channel banks, and engineered surfaces shows that during the period from 1935 to 1997, the relative areal coverage of these surfaces has changed. Flood events have caused general changes in sinuosity of the low-flow channel, but islands have remained remarkably consistent in location and size, while channel-side bars have waxed and waned. The most important determinant of local channel form and process is sand and gravel mining, which in some reaches occupies more than 70% of the active channel area. The general location of mining is closely related to the location of the moving urban fringe, which serves as a market for sand and gravel during construction. Quantitative spatial analysis of imagery supplemented by field mapping shows that for each location within the general channel area, it is possible to specify a probability of encountering a low-flow channel or other fluvial features. Maps showing the distribution of these probabilities of occurrence reveal the most probable location and configuration of the channel as it occurred in the past. Some reaches have the low-flow channel located persistently within a limited area as a result of bedrock or sinuosity controls, but other reaches dominated by flow separation or shallow gradient have almost no persistence in channel location from one flood to another.

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