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  • Is Mean Discharge Meaningless for Environmental Flow Management?

    PURPOSE: River ecosystems are highly dependent on and responsive to hydrologic variability over multiple time scales (e.g., hours, months, years). Fluctuating river flows present a key challenge to river managers, who must weigh competing demands for freshwater. Environmental flow recommendations and regulations seek to provide management targets balancing socio-economic outcomes with maintenance of ecological integrity. Often, flow management targets are based on average river conditions over temporal windows such as days, months, or years. Here, three case studies of hydrologic variability are presented at each time scale, which demonstrate the potential pitfalls of mean-based environmental flow criteria. Each case study shows that the intent of the environmental flow target is not met when hydrologic variability is considered. While mean discharge is inadequate as a single-minded flow management target, the consequences of mean flow prescriptions can be avoided in environmental flow recommendations. Based on these case studies, a temporal hierarchy of environmental flow thresholds is proposed (e.g., an instantaneous flow target coupled with daily and monthly averages), which would improve the efficacy of these regulations.
  • Hydrologic Analysis of Field Delineated Ordinary High Water Marks for Rivers and Streams

    Abstract: Streamflow influences the distribution and organization of high water marks along rivers and streams in a landscape. The federal definition of ordinary high water mark (OHWM) is defined by physical and vegetative field indicators that are used to identify inundation extents of ordinary high water levels without any reference to the relationship between streamflow and regulatory definition. Streamflow is the amount, or volume, of water that moves through a stream per unit time. This study explores regional characteristics and relationships between field-delineated OHWMs and frequency-magnitude streamflow metrics derived from a flood frequency analysis. The elevation of OHWM is related to representative constant-level discharge return periods with national average return periods of 6.9 years using partial duration series and 2.8 years using annual maximum flood frequency approaches. The range in OHWM return periods is 0.5 to 9.08, and 1.05 to 11.01 years for peaks-over-threshold and annual maximum flood frequency methods, respectively. The range of OHWM return periods is consistent with the range found in national studies of return periods related to bankfull streamflow. Hydraulic models produced a statistically significant relationship between OHWM and bank-full, which reinforces the close relationship between the scientific concept and OHWM in most stream systems.
  • Formulation of a Multi-Scale Watershed Ecological Model Using a Statistical Approach

    Abstract: The purpose of this special report is to provide a statistical stepwise process for formulation of ecological models for application at multiple scales using a stream condition index (SCI). Given the global variability of aquatic ecosystems, this guidance is for broad application and may require modification to suit specific watersheds or stream reaches. However, the general statistical treatise provided herein applies across physiographies and at multiple scales. The Duck River Watershed Assessment in Tennessee was used, in part, to develop and test this multiscale, statistical approach; thus, it is considered a case example and referenced throughout this report. The findings of this study can be utilized to (1) prioritize water-sheds for restoration, enhancement, and conservation; (2) plan and conduct site-specific, intensive ecosystem studies; and (3) assess ecosystem outcomes (that is, ecological lift) applicable to future with and without restoration actions including alternative, feasibility, and cost-benefit analyses and adaptive management.
  • PUBLICATION NOTICE: Utilizing Stream Flows to Forecast Dredging Requirements

    Abstract: In recent years, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has spent an average of approximately a billion dollars annually for navigation channel maintenance dredging. To execute these funds effectively, USACE districts must determine which navigation channels are most in need of maintenance dredging each year. Traditionally, dredging volume estimates for Operations and Maintenance budget development are based on experiential knowledge and historic averages, with the effects of upstream, precipitation-driven streamflows considered via general-rule approximations. This study uses the Streamflow Prediction Tool, a hydrologic routing model driven by global weather forecast ensembles, and dredging records from the USACE Galveston District to explore relationships between precipitation-driven inland channel flow and subsequent dredged volumes in the downstream coastal channel reaches. Spatially based regression relationships are established between cumulative inland flows and dredged volumes. Results in the test cases of the Houston Ship Channel and the Sabine-Neches Waterway in Texas indicate useful correlations between the computed streamflow volumes and recorded dredged volumes. These relationships are stronger for channel reaches farther inland, upstream of the coastal processes that are not included in the precipitation-driven hydrologic model.