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Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface


American Geophysical Union Publications

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Earth Sciences | Geology


Condit Dam on the White Salmon River,Washington, a 38m high dam impounding a large volume (1.8 million m3) of fine-grained sediment (60% sand, 35% silt and clay, and 5% gravel), was rapidly breached in October 2011. This unique dam decommissioning produced dramatic upstream and downstream geomorphic responses in the hours and weeks following breaching. Blasting a 5 m wide hole into the base of the dam resulted in rapid reservoir drawdown, abruptly releasing ~1.6 million m3 of reservoir water, exposing reservoir sediment to erosion, and triggering mass failures of the thickly accumulated reservoir sediment. Within 90 min of breaching, the reservoir’s water and ~10% of its sediment had evacuated. At a gauging station 2.3 km downstream, flow increased briefly by 400 m3 s-1 during passage of the initial pulse of released reservoir water, followed by a highly concentrated flow phase—up to 32% sediment by volume—as landslide-generated slurries from the reservoir moved downstream. This hyperconcentrated flow, analogous to those following volcanic eruptions or large landslides, draped the downstream river with predominantly fine sand. During the ensuing weeks, suspended-sediment concentration declined and sand and gravel bed load derived from continued reservoir erosion aggraded the channel by > 1 m at the gauging station, after which the river incised back to near its initial elevation at this site. Within 15 weeks after breaching, over 1 million m3 of suspended load is estimated to have passed the gauging station, consistent with estimates that >60% of the reservoir’s sediment had eroded. This dam removal highlights the influence of interactions among reservoir erosion processes, sediment composition, and style of decommissioning on rate of reservoir erosion and consequent downstream behavior of released sediment.




An edited version of this paper was published by AGU. Copyright (2014) American Geophysical Union.


©2014. The Authors.

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