Retention of suspended sediment and phosphorus on a freshwater delta, South Lake Tahoe, California

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Abstract

The Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek, two major tributaries inflowing to Lake Tahoe, join to form what was historically the largest wetland in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that separates California and Nevada (USA). In the 1950s the delta floodplain of the Upper Truckee River was greatly reduced in area (38%) by urban development and the diversion of the river into a single excavated channel. Conversely, Trout Creek still flows through a wide marsh system with significant overbank flooding before entering Lake Tahoe. This study hypothesized that river channel reaches that are not incised within the delta floodplain retain more sediment and nutrients as a result of greater floodplain connectivity, compared to more incised and excavated reaches. Suspended sediment (SS) and total phosphorus (TP) load data from the delta formed by the Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek were collected using flow stage sensors, turbidometers and depth-integrated samples. During the spring snowmelt flow events monitored in 2003, SS load was reduced by 13-41% for the Upper Truckee River and by 68-90% for Trout Creek. Similar reductions in TP load were observed: 13-32% for the Upper Truckee River and 61-84% for Trout Creek. Monitoring of Trout Creek indicated a reduction in load per unit volume of 20-34% in a moderately incised reach versus a reduction of 51-77% in a non-incised marsh reach containing lagoons, braided channels and backwater areas created by a beaver dam. Smaller particle sizes, <10 μm, were retained in the lower marsh reach with similar efficiencies as larger particle sizes. If retention rates from the Trout Creek portion of the marsh are applied to the Upper Truckee River, sediment loading to Lake Tahoe for 2003 would have been reduced by 917 tons of SS.

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