Watershed sediment supply and potential impacts of dam removals for an estuary

Journal Article Resource
January 2021


Observations and modeling are used to assess potential impacts of sediment releases due to dam removals on the Hudson River estuary. Watershed sediment loads are calculated based on sediment-discharge rating curves for gauges covering 80% of the watershed area. The annual average sediment load to the estuary is 1.2 Mt, of which about 0.6 Mt comes from side tributaries. Sediment yield varies inversely with watershed area, with regional trends that are consistent with substrate erodibility. Geophysical and sedimentological surveys in seven subwatersheds of the Lower Hudson were conducted to estimate the mass and composition of sediment trapped behind dams. Impoundments were classified as (1) active sediment traps, (2) run-of-river sites not actively trapping sediment, and (3) dammed natural lakes and spring-fed ponds. Based on this categorization and impoundment attributes from a dam inventory database, the total mass of impounded sediment in the Lower Hudson watershed is estimated as 4.9 ± 1.9 Mt. This represents about 4 years of annual watershed supply, which is small compared with some individual dam removals and is not practically available given current dam removal rates. More than half of dams impound drainage areas less than 1 km2, and play little role in downstream sediment supply. In modeling of a simulated dam removal, suspended sediment in the estuary increases modestly near the source during discharge events, but otherwise effects on suspended sediment are minimal. Fine-grained sediment deposits broadly along the estuary and coarser sediment deposits near the source, with transport distance inversely related to settling velocity.

About this article

This paper, published in Estuaries and Coasts in 2021, describes findings from a collaborative research project that was conducted in collaboration with the Hudson River Reserve and a group of stakeholders intersted in dam removal planning. To learn more, read this press release and download the team's dam sediment estimation tool.


Ralston, D,K., B. Yellen and J.D. Woodruff. 2021. Watershed sediment supply and potential impacts of dam removals for an estuary. Estuaries and Coasts. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-020-00873-3

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