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

Journal Article Resource
June 2020


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 regressions 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 tributaries entering below the head of tides. Sediment yield varies inversely with watershed area, with regional trends that are consistent with differences in substrate erodibility. Geophysical and sedimentological surveys in five subwatersheds of the Lower Hudson were conducted to characterize 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, and 3) dammed natural lakes and spring-fed ponds. Based on this categorization and impoundment attributes from the dam inventory database, the total mass of impounded sediment in the Lower Hudson watershed is estimated as 3.1 Mt. Assuming that roughly half of the impounded sediment is typically released downstream with dam removal, then the potential inputs represent less than 2 years of annual watershed supply. Modeling of simulated dam removals shows that modest suspended sediment increases occur in the estuary within about a tidal excursion of the source tributary, primarily during discharge events. Transport in the estuary depends strongly on settling velocity, but fine particles, which are important for accretion in tidal wetlands, deposit broadly along the estuary rather than primarily near the source.

About this article

This paper, submitted for publication in Estuaries and Coasts in 2020, describes findings from the Dams and Sediment in the Hudson (DaSH) project related Hudson River estuary sediment supply and dam removal. It estimates sediment impounded behind dams, compares this with new estimates of watershed sediment yield, and assesses the potential fate for dam sediment released into the estuary. This preprint is available at the Earth and Space Science Open Archive.


Ralston, David, Brian Yellen, and Jonathon Woodruff. 2020. “Watershed sediment supply and potential impacts of dam removals for an estuary.” Earth and Space Science Open Archive. March 30, 2020. Doi:10.1002/essoar.10502519.1

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