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Comparison of Methods for Determining Streamflow Requirements for Aquatic Habitat Protection at Selected Sites on the Assabet and Charles Rivers, Eastern Massachusetts, 2000–02

By Gene W. Parker, David S. Armstrong (U.S. Geological Survey), and
Todd A. Richards (Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife)

ONLINE ONLY

Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5092

ABSTRACT

Four methods used to determine streamflow requirements for habitat protection at nine critical riffle reaches in the Assabet River and Charles River Basins were compared. The methods include three standard setting techniques—R2Cross, Wetted Perimeter, and Tennant—and a diagnostic method, the Range of Variability Approach. One study reach is on the main stem of the Assabet River, four reaches are on tributaries to the Assabet River (Cold Harbor Brook, Danforth Brook, Fort Meadow Brook, and Elizabeth Brook), three are on the main stem of the Charles River, and one is on a tributary to the Charles River (Mine Brook). The strength of the R2Cross and Wetted-Perimeter methods is that they may be applied at ungaged locations whereas the Tennant method and the Range of Variability Approach require a period of streamflow record for analysis.

Fish community assessments conducted at or near riffle sites in flowing reaches of the Assabet River and Charles River Basins were used to indicate ecological conditions. The fish communities in the main stem and tributary reaches of both the Assabet and Charles River Basins indicated degraded aquatic ecosystems. However, the degree of degradation differs between the two basins. The extreme predominance of tolerant, generalist species in the Charles River fish community demon-strates the cumulative impacts of flow, habitat, and water-chemistry degradation, combined with the effects of nearby impoundments and changing land use.

The range of discharges for nine ungaged riffle reaches defined by the median R2Cross 3-of-3 criteria, R2Cross 2-of-3 criteria, and Wetted-Perimeter streamflow requirements, was 0.86 cubic foot per second per square mile, 0.18 cubic foot per second per square mile, and 0.23 cubic foot per second per square mile, respectively. Application of R2Cross and Wetted-Perimeter methods to sites with altered streamflows or at sites that are riffles only at low to moderate flows can result in a greater variability of streamflow requirements than would result if the methods were applied to riffles on natural channels with unaltered streamflows. The R2Cross 2-of-3 criteria and the Wetted-Perimeter streamflow requirements for the Assabet and Charles River sites show narrower interquartile ranges and lower median streamflow requirements than for 10 index streamflow-gaging stations in southern New England. This is especially evident for the R2Cross 2-of-3 criteria and Wetted-Perimeter results that were close to half of the flow requirements determined at the 10 southern New England stations.

The R2Cross and Wetted-Perimeter methods were also compared to the Range of Variability Approach analysis and the Tennant Method. The median R2Cross 3-of-3 criteria streamflow requirement for the nine riffles is close to the 75th percentile of the monthly mean flows during the summer low-flow period from six streamflow-gaging stations near the Assabet and Charles River Basins having mostly unaltered flow. This streamflow requirement is close to the median Tennant 40-percent-flow requirement for good habitat condi-tion for the same six nearby stations. The R2Cross 2-of-3 criteria and Wetted-Perimeter results were less than the 25th-percentile of monthly mean flows during the summer months for the six stations. These streamflow requirements are in the poor habitat range as indicated by a Tennant analysis of the same six stations. These comparisons indicate that the R2Cross and Wetted-Perimeter methods underestimate streamflow requirements when applied to sites in smaller drainage areas and channels that are runs at higher flows.

CONTENTS

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Description of Study Sites

Methods for Determining Streamflow Requirements for Aquatic Habitat Protection

Water-Surface-Profile Modeling

R2Cross Method

Wetted-Perimeter Method

Range of Variability Approach

Tennant Method

Streamflow Requirements for Aquatic Habitat Protection

Assabet River near Westborough

Cold Harbor Brook near Northborough

Danforth Brook at Hudson

Fort Meadow Brook near Hudson

Elizabeth Brook near Stow

Nashoba Brook at West Concord

Charles River near Hopkinton

Mine Brook near Franklin

Charles River at Medway

Fish-Community Sampling and Assessment

Sampling Results

Assabet River Basin Sampling

Charles River Basin Sampling

Fish-Community Assessments

Comparison of Streamflow Requirement Methods

Conclusions

Acknowledgments

References Cited

Appendix 1: Water-Surface-Profile Model Documentation.

FIGURES

1–2. Maps showing:

1. Location of major river basins in Massachusetts

2. Location of study sites and six streamflow-gaging stations near the Charles and Assabet River Basins

3. Photographs showing A, Riffle and B, pooled reaches on the Charles River at Medway, on August 1, 2001, during a period of low flow

4. Diagram showing A, stream channel for River Station 133.7; B, graph of relation between altitude and wetted perimeter; and C, graph of relation between wetted perimeter and discharge at Fort Meadow Brook near Hudson

5–14. Photographs showing:

5. Assabet River near Westborough, upstream view

6. Cold Harbor Brook near Northborough, upstream view

7. Danforth Brook at Hudson, upstream view

8. Fort Meadow Brook near Hudson, upstream view

9. Elizabeth Brook near Stow, downstream view

10. Nashoba Brook at West Concord, downstream view

11. Charles River near Hopkinton, upstream view

12. Mine Brook near Franklin, downstream view

13. Charles River at Medway, downstream views of the study reaches: A, the upstream riffle; and B, the downstream riffle

14. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife personnel barge electrofishing for the fish-community assessment

15. Pie chart of target fish community for the Quinebaug River

16. Map showing location of fish-sampling sites and habitat study sites in the Charles and Assabet River Basins

17. Pie chart of fish species habitat-use classifications: A, main stem free-flowing sites on the Assabet River, 2000–01; and B, main stem free-flowing sites on the Charles River, 2000–01

18–20. Box plots comparing:

18. Streamflow requirements determined by the R2Cross 3-of-3 criteria, R2Cross 2-of-3 criteria, and Wetted-Perimeter methods for all cross sections analyzed

19. R2Cross, 3-of-3 criteria, R2Cross, 2-of-3 criteria, and Wetted-Perimeter method streamflow requirements determined at 9 riffle sites in the Assabet and Charles River Basins and at 10 streamflow-gaging stations in southern New England reported in Armstrong and others (2004)

20. Drainage area at 9 riffle sites in the Assabet and Charles River Basins at 10 streamflow-gaging stations in southern New England reported in Armstrong and others (2004), and six streamflow-gaging stations near the Assabet and Charles River Basins

21. Graph of quartiles of mean monthly discharges for the period 1976–2000 for six streamflow-gaging stations compared with median streamflow requirements estimated by the R2Cross 3-of-3 criteria, R2Cross 2-of-3 criteria, and Wetted- Perimeter methods for nine riffles in the Assabet and Charles River Basins

TABLES

1. Locations and characteristics of riffle reaches, Assabet and Charles Rivers, Massachusetts

2. R2Cross hydraulic criteria for four hydraulic parameters for protection of aquatic habitat

3. Streamflows required for habitat protection determined by means of the R2Cross 3-of-3 criteria method

4. Streamflows required for habitat protection determined by means of the R2Cross 2-of-3 criteria method

5. Streamflows required for habitat protection determined by means of the Wetted- Perimeter method

6. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at the Assabet River near Westborough

7. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at Cold Harbor Brook near Northborough

8. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at Danforth Brook at Hudson

9. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at Fort Meadow Brook near Hudson

10. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at Elizabeth Brook near Stow

11. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at Nashoba Brook at West Concord

12. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at Charles River near Hopkinton

13. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at Mine Brook near Franklin

14. Hydraulic characteristics at critical cross sections meeting R2Cross and Wetted- Perimeter method criteria for habitat protection at Charles River at Medway

15. Percentages of fish in each habitat-use classification sampled in flowing reaches of several river basins in Massachusetts

16. Number of each species and percent of total number of fish collected in the main stem, tributaries, and headwaters of the Assabet and Charles River Basins, by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife from 1999 through 2001

17. Summary of R2Cross and Wetted-Perimeter streamflow requirements for nine riffle sites included in analysis, Assabet and Charles River Basins

18. Streamflow requirements estimated by the Tennant method from the combined records of six streamflow-gaging stations near the Assabet and Charles River Basins

19. Flow statistics determined for Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration approach for six streamflow-gaging stations near the Assabet and Charles River Basins



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The citation for this report, in USGS format, is as follows:

Parker, G.W., Armstrong, D.S., and Richards, T.A., 2004, Comparison of methods for determining streamflow requirements for aquatic habitat protection at selected sites on the Assabet and Charles Rivers, Eastern Massachusetts, 2000–02: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5092, 72 p.


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