Sedimentation research started at Oxford in 1956 with stream gaging and sediment sampling activities at selected locations in the 117 square mile area of the Pidgeon Roost Watershed near Holly Springs, MS. The work was carried out by a small staff which initially was stationed on the University of Mississippi campus. The measurements in this watershed were discontinued in September 1982.
In 1958, the first part of the present Laboratory facility was built. The establishment of the Laboratory was motivated by a need to obtain a better understanding of sediment transport problems, and thus the mission of the Laboratory was broadened to include sediment transport studies under controlled-flow regimes and lake sedimentation measurements. The professional and technical staff in subsequent years increased appreciably to assist in the implementation of the mission of the Laboratory.
In 1968, an addition was made to the facility, which consisted of additional laboratory space, offices, and a second hydraulics laboratory. The mission of the Laboratory expanded further to include upland soil erosion research and sediment yield measurements from agricultural-size watersheds.
In 1987, the main wing of the Laboratory was added and included more laboratory and office space. This space was needed to implement the interagency Demonstration Erosion Control (DEC) Project. By Congressional action the Laboratory was renamed the USDA-ARS National Sedimentation Laboratory and was assigned a greatly expanded role in evaluating the performance of hydraulic structures, streambank stabilization effects on sediment yield, and ecology in DEC watersheds.
Over the 41 years of its existence the laboratory has seen its role and mission greatly expand, and is seen at the national and international levels as a center of excellence for erosion and sedimentation research. During this time, many scientists and engineers have made routine visits to the Laboratory and have joined other agencies and institutions in combined efforts.