Channel-changing Processes on the Santa Cruz River, Pima County, Arizona, 1936-86

by John T. C. Parker, U.S. Geological Survey, Tucson, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Hydraulics/Hydrology of Arid Lands (H²AL)


Lateral channel change on the mainly ephemeral Santa Cruz River, Pima County, Arizona, causes damage and has spawned costly efforts to control bank erosion. Aerial photographs, historical data, and field observations are used to document the history of channel change since 1936. Variability in the nature and degree of channel change over time and space is shown. Three major channel change processes are: (1) migration by bank erosion during meander migration or initiation; (2) avulsion by overbank flooding and flood plain incision; (3) widening by erosion of low, cohesionless banks during floods and arroyo widening by undercutting and mass wasting of deeply incised vertical walls. The first process generally is a product of low to moderate flows or waning high flows; the others result mainly from higher flows, though sensitive arroyo walls may erode during relatively low flows. Channel morphology, bank resistance, and hydrology are factors determining the dominant channel-changing process on a particular reach of the river. Present river morphology reflects high flows since the 1960's.

Subject Headings: Channels (waterway) | River bank stabilization | Rivers and streams | Erosion | Flood plains | Walls | Low flow | Hydrology | Arizona | United States

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