US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5058 (2009) 78 p.


The objective of this study was to assess the sensitivity of habitat availability in the Lower Missouri River to discharge variation, with emphasis on habitats that might support spawning of the endangered pallid sturgeon. We constructed computational hydrodynamic models for four reaches that were selected because of evidence that sturgeon have spawned in them. The reaches are located at Miami, Missouri (river mile 259.6–263.5), Little Sioux, Iowa (river mile 669.6–673.5), Kenslers Bend, Nebraska (river mile 743.9–748.1), and Yankton, South Dakota reach (river mile 804.8–808.4). The models were calibrated for a range of measured flow conditions, and run for a range of discharges that might be affected by flow modifications from Gavins Point Dam. Model performance was assessed by comparing modeled and measured water velocities.

A selection of derived habitat units was assessed for sensitivity to hydraulic input parameters (drag coefficient and lateral eddy viscosity). Overall, model results were minimally sensitive to varying eddy viscosity; varying lateral eddy viscosity by 20 percent resulted in maximum change in habitat units of 5.4 percent. Shallow-water habitat units were most sensitive to variation in drag coefficient with 42 percent change in unit area resulting from 20 percent change in the parameter value; however, no habitat unit value changed more than 10 percent for a 10 percent variation in drag coefficient. Sensitivity analysis provides guidance for selecting habitat metrics that maximize information content while minimizing model uncertainties.

To assess model sensitivities arising from topographic variation from sediment transport on an annual time scale, we constructed separate models from two complete independent surveys in 2006 and 2007. The net topographic change was minimal at each site; the ratio of net topographic change to water volume in the reaches at 95 percent exceedance flow was less than 5 percent, indicating that on a reach-average basis, annual topographic change contributed little to habitat area variation. Net erosion occurred at Yankton (the upstream reach) and because erosion was distributed uniformly, there was little affect on many habitat metrics. Topographic change was spatially nonuniform at Little Sioux and Kenslers Bend reaches. Shallow water habitat units and some reach-scale patch statistics (edge density, patch density, and Simpson’s Diversity Index) were affected by these changes. Erosion dominated at the downstream reach but habitat metrics did not vary substantially from 2006 to 2007.

Among habitat metrics that were explored, zones of convergent flow were identified as areas that most closely correspond to spawning habitats of other sturgeon species, as identified in the scientific literature, and that are consistent with sparse data on pallid sturgeon spawning locations in the Lower Missouri River. Areas of convergent zone habitat varied little with discharges that would be associated with spring pulsed flows, and relations with discharge changed negligibly between 2006 and 2007.

Other habitat measures show how physical habitat varies with discharge and among the four reaches. Wake habitats defined by velocity gradients seem to correspond with migration pathways of adult pallid sturgeon. Habitats with low Froude-number correspond to low energy areas that may accumulate passively transporting particles, organic matter, and larval fish. Among the modeled reaches, Yankton had substantially longer water residence time for equivalent flow exceedances than the other three modeled reaches. Longer residence times result from greater flow resistance in the relatively wide, shallow channel and may be associated with longer residence times of passively transported particulate materials.