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Stratigraphic Analysis of Corte Madera Creek Flood Control Channel Deposits

Daniel Livsey, Paul A. Work, Maureen Downing-Kunz | September 3, 2019
Summary

Sedimentation in a channel can reduce flood conveyance capability and potentially place nearby property and life at risk from flooding. In 1998, Marin County Public Works dredged the concrete-lined segment of Corte Madera Creek, which drains a hilly and largely urbanized watershed that terminates in San Francisco Bay, California. From then through 2015, approximately 4,100 cubic meters of sand and gravel infilled the concrete-lined segment. Determining when and under what conditions this material was deposited informs dredging operations for the Corte Madera Creek Flood Control Project and increases understanding of sediment delivery timing and mechanisms from this and other San Francisco Bay tributaries.

Two hypothesized scenarios were investigated: (1) complete flushing during high flows and re-deposition of channel fill afterward and (2) more steady, gradual channel infilling. Stratigraphic analysis of eight sediment cores collected from the flood-control channel deposits in August 2017 was used to identify the most likely scenario. In addition, sediment elevation profiles, grain-size data, and a one-dimensional hydrodynamic model were used to assess the potential for longitudinal-channel scour and deposition following the wet winter of water year 2017 in the intertidal reach of the concrete channel in Corte Madera Creek.

Results indicated the channel is undergoing gradual infilling. Storm flows of water year 2017 did not completely scour the concrete channel fill. Sediment cores, stratigraphic analysis, and sediment elevation profiles indicated 0.23 meter of scour at the downstream end of the concrete-lined section and that roughly 0.5 meter of channel fill remained in the channel. The hydrodynamic model demonstrated that sediment deposition in the concrete channel is expected to start downstream from the point where the channel bed reaches mean lower low-water level. High flows can carry most of the sediment through this segment of channel, depositing the bed-material load downstream from the transition to a wide channel, where velocity and bed shear stress decrease abruptly.

Although the storm flows of 2017 did not completely scour the channel fill, subsequent material deposited in the channel could be transported downstream from the concrete channel if the sediment elevation profile is in equilibrium with present (2019) mean sea level. A calibrated, coupled hydrodynamic-sediment transport model could be used to test the present equilibrium between sediment elevation profiles and mean sea level, such that additional sediment build-up in the concrete channel is remobilized during subsequent wet-season flows and deposited downstream from the concrete-lined segment.

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Sedimentation in a channel can reduce flood conveyance capability and potentially place nearby property and life at risk from flooding. In 1998, Marin County Public Works dredged the concrete-lined segment of Corte Madera Creek, which drains a hilly and largely urbanized watershed that terminates in San Francisco Bay, California. From then through 2015, approximately 4,100 cubic meters of sand and gravel infilled the concrete-lined segment. Determining when and under what conditions this material was deposited informs dredging operations for the Corte Madera Creek Flood Control Project and increases understanding of sediment delivery timing and mechanisms from this and other San Francisco Bay tributaries.

Two hypothesized scenarios were investigated: (1) complete flushing during high flows and re-deposition of channel fill afterward and (2) more steady, gradual channel infilling. Stratigraphic analysis of eight sediment cores collected from the flood-control channel deposits in August 2017 was used to identify the most likely scenario. In addition, sediment elevation profiles, grain-size data, and a one-dimensional hydrodynamic model were used to assess the potential for longitudinal-channel scour and deposition following the wet winter of water year 2017 in the intertidal reach of the concrete channel in Corte Madera Creek.

Results indicated the channel is undergoing gradual infilling. Storm flows of water year 2017 did not completely scour the concrete channel fill. Sediment cores, stratigraphic analysis, and sediment elevation profiles indicated 0.23 meter of scour at the downstream end of the concrete-lined section and that roughly 0.5 meter of channel fill remained in the channel. The hydrodynamic model demonstrated that sediment deposition in the concrete channel is expected to start downstream from the point where the channel bed reaches mean lower low-water level. High flows can carry most of the sediment through this segment of channel, depositing the bed-material load downstream from the transition to a wide channel, where velocity and bed shear stress decrease abruptly.

Although the storm flows of 2017 did not completely scour the channel fill, subsequent material deposited in the channel could be transported downstream from the concrete channel if the sediment elevation profile is in equilibrium with present (2019) mean sea level. A calibrated, coupled hydrodynamic-sediment transport model could be used to test the present equilibrium between sediment elevation profiles and mean sea level, such that additional sediment build-up in the concrete channel is remobilized during subsequent wet-season flows and deposited downstream from the concrete-lined segment.

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Keywords:

flood management, sediment