Whittlesey Creek Sediment Sources and Sinks
Project Number: 9KO41
Project Chief: Faith Fitzpatrick
Project Topics: Sediment sources, sinks and transport; restoration planning and monitoring; basin sediment budget
Cooperators: Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers
Period of Project: 1999-ongoing
Sand and gravel plug in Whittlesey Creek main channel
Whittlesey Creek is a regionally important stream for brook trout spawning and rearing. The lower main stem of Whittlesey Creek is the centerpiece of the Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge goals are to protect and restore habitat in Whittlesey Creek, surrounding creeks, and coastal wetlands in Chequamegon Bay for migration, spawning, and rearing of trout and salmon from Lake Superior. However, as in many Lake Superior southshore streams, aquatic habitat in Whittlesey Creek is degraded because of increased runoff and associated sedimentation problems caused from historical agriculture and forestry practices, and development of roads. Geomorphic conditions have been altered by increases in the magnitude and duration of floods and increased sediment erosion, transport, and deposition. Recent studies by the USGS estimated that more than 5 feet of sediment was deposited on the flood plain historically through the refuge. Just upstream of the refuge, the channel of Whittlesey Creek has extensive shifting sand and gravel bars, coincident with regional ground-water upwellings (critical for brook trout habitat). Streambank and bluff erosion along the upper main stem provides sand and sediment to downstream reaches, and sand bedload movement hampers restoration efforts in the lower main stem.
To provide sound scientific data on erosion and sedimentation processes in the Whittlesey Creek watershed that will be used by managers in decisions regarding future restoration alternatives in the refuge and throughout the watershed.
This proposed study would provide more quantitative data on erosion and deposition rates throughout the watershed and build off of previous USGS work. This study is part of a larger sediment transport study for the entire Whittlesey Creek watershed that provides the foundation for the USFWS Whittlesey Creek Refuge Habitat Plan. Project partners for the larger study include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, and Inter-Fluve.
Specifically for this proposed study the USGS will:
(1) Identify and quantify sediment sources erosion zones in the watershed. This will be done by examining historical aerial photography, 2003 helicopter videos, 2005 1-m aerial photography (National Agriculture Imagery Program), and 1-DEMs. Field checks will be performed, during runoff events, if possible. Erosion rates will be estimated.
(2) Determine sedimentation rates in depositional areas in levees, channels, and flood plains. This will be done by collecting hand cores along a subset of cross sections surveyed by Inter-Fluve, Inc. Flood-plain deposits will be described, and presettlement land surface identified in depositional zones.
(3) Map channel sources of sediment such as headcuts, gullies, landslides, bank erosion, upland sheet erosion.
(4) Construct a sediment budget for the watershed. Soils, land cover, and 10-m DEM data will be used to identify sub basins with different sediment delivery ratios.
(5) Continue to operate and maintain the USGS streamflow gage on Whittlesey.
The USACE and the USGS are developing a SIAM model for the watershed.
Continue dialog amongst the agencies to build a reach-based model of sedimentation and erosion potential that can be used to test the effects of restoration alternatives on sediment erosion, transport, and deposition throughout the watershed.
Publications and Reports
Lenz, B.N., Saad, D.A., and Faith A. Fitzpatrick, 2003, Simulation of ground-water flow and rainfall runoff with emphasis on the effects of land cover, Whittlesey Creek, Bayfield County, Wisconsin, 1999-2001, U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Investigations Report 2003-4130.
Where is the Sand Coming From?, 2006, Project Poster
Field Monitoring for Fluvial Sediment, 2010, Educational Presentation