Trends in Streamflow Characteristics of Selected Sites in the Elkhorn River, Salt Creek, and Lower Platte River Basins, Eastern Nebraska, 1928–2004, and Evaluation of Streamflows in Relation to Instream-Flow Criteria, 1953–2004
Document Type Article
Prepared in cooperation with the Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District and the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District
Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5011
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources approved instream-flow appropriations on the Platte River to maintain fish communities, whooping crane roost habitat, and wet meadows used by several wild bird species. In the lower Platte River region, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission owns an appropriation filed to maintain streamflow for fish communities between the Platte River confluence with the Elkhorn River and the mouth of the Platte River. Because Elkhorn River flow is an integral part of the flow in the reach addressed by this appropriation, the Upper Elkhorn and Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources Districts are involved in overall management of anthropogenic effects on the availability of surface water for instream requirements.
The Physical Habitat Simulation System (PHABSIM) and other estimation methodologies were used previously to determine instream requirements for Platte River biota, which led to the filing of five water appropriations applications with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources in 1993 by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. One of these requested instream-flow appropriations of 3,700 cubic feet per second was for the reach from the Elkhorn River to the mouth of the Platte River. Four appropriations were granted with modifications in 1998, by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources.
Daily streamflow data for the periods of record were summarized for 17 streamflow-gaging stations in Nebraska to evaluate streamflow characteristics, including low-flow intervals for consecutive durations of 1, 3, 7, 14, 30, 60, and 183 days. Temporal trends in selected streamflow statistics were not adjusted for variability in precipitation. Results indicated significant positive temporal trends in annual flow for the period of record at eight streamflow-gaging stations – Platte River near Duncan (06774000), Platte River at North Bend (06796000), Elkhorn River at Neligh (06798500), Logan Creek near Uehling (06799500), Maple Creek near Nickerson (06800000), Elkhorn River at Waterloo (06800500), Salt Creek at Greenwood (06803555), and Platte River at Louisville (06805500). In general, sites in the Elkhorn River Basin upstream from Norfolk showed fewer significant trends than did sites downstream from Norfolk and sites in the Platte River and Salt Creek basins, where trends in low flows also were positive.
Historical Platte River streamflow records for the streamflow-gaging station at Louisville, Nebraska, were used to determine the number of days per water year (Sept. 30 to Oct. 1) when flows failed to satisfy the minimum criteria of the instream-flow appropriation prior to its filing in 1993. Before 1993, the median number of days the criteria were not satisfied was about 120 days per water year. During 1993 through 2004, daily mean flows at Louisville, Nebraska, have failed to satisfy the criteria for 638 days total (median value equals 21.5 days per year). Most of these low-flow intervals occurred in summer through early fall. For water years 1953 through 2004, of the discrete intervals when flow was less that the criteria levels, 61 percent were 3 days or greater in duration, and 38 percent were 7 days or greater in duration. The median duration of intervals of flow less than the criteria levels was 4 consecutive days during 1953 through 2004.