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Effects of Alternative Missouri River Management Plans on Ground-Water Levels in the Lower Missouri River Flood Plain


Missouri River near Misssouri City, Missouri

Brian P. Kelly, Project Chief

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In 1998, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposed eight Alternative River Management Plans (ARMPs) for managing reservoir levels and water-release rates for the Missouri River. The plans include the Current Water Control Plan (CWCP), Conservation 18, 31, and 44 (C18, C31, and C44) that provide different levels of water conservation in the reservoirs during droughts, Fish and Wildlife 10, 15, and 20 (FW10, FW15, and FW20) that vary water-release rates to provide additional fish and wildlife benefits, and Mississippi River 66 (M66) that maintains a 66,000 cubic feet per second discharge at St. Louis to provide navigation support for the Mississippi River. Releases from Gavin’s Point Dam affect both the lower 1,305 kilometers of the Missouri River and ground-water levels in the lower Missouri River flood plain. Changes in the magnitude and timing of ground-water-level fluctuations in response to changes in river management could impact agriculture, urban development, and wetland hydrology along the lower Missouri River flood plain. This study compared simulated ground-water altitude and depth to ground water for the CWCP in the Missouri River alluvial aquifer near the Kansas City area between 1970 and 1980 with each ARMP, determined the average change in simulated ground-water level for selected river-stage flood pulses at selected distances from the river, and compared simulated flood pulse, ground-water responses with actual flood pulse, and ground-water responses measured in wells located at three sites along the lower Missouri River flood plain.

For the model area, the percent total shallow ground-water area (depth to ground water less than 0.3048 meter) is similar for each ARMP because of overall similarities in river flow between ARMPs. The percent total shallow ground-water area for C18 is the most similar to CWCP followed by C31, M66, C44, FW10, FW15, and FW20. ARMPs C18, C31, C44, and M66 do not cause large changes in the percent shallow ground-water area when compared to CWCP. FW10 and FW15 each cause a spring increase and a summer decrease in the shallow ground-water area. FW20 has a larger spring increase in the shallow ground-water area, but the largest decrease is delayed into November. Analysis of daily changes between the ARMPs indicate large differences can exist in both duration and extent of shallow ground-water areas.

A series of 12 flood pulses of 0.5-, 1-, and 3-meters in magnitude and 1-, 8-, 32-, and 128-days in duration were simulated using the ground-water flow model. A ground-water response factor (GWRF, defined as the change in ground-water level at a known distance from the river, at a specified time after the beginning of a flood pulse divided by the magnitude of the flood pulse) was determined daily for selected distances from the river. The GWRF multiplied by the magnitude of the flood pulse can be used to estimate the change in ground-water level at a known time after the beginning of a flood pulse for a known distance from the river. Flood-pulse simulation results indicate the relatively small impact on ground-water levels of small river-stage fluctuations of short duration as might occur daily or weekly. The larger impact on ground-water levels from larger river-stage increases of longer duration indicate the importance of river management flow releases, seasonal changes in river flow, and the effects of continuous high-river stage for long periods on ground-water levels of the lower Missouri River flood plain.

A comparison of model results to well hydrographs from three areas along the lower Missouri River flood plain was used to determine how closely the simulated GWRFs matched the measured GWRFs for similar flood pulses and the transferability of GWRFs to other parts of the lower Missouri River flood plain. The comparison between the measured and simulated ground-water responses indicate that the simulated ground-water responses can provide a reasonable estimate of the ground-water response to river-stage changes in the lower Missouri River flood plain. The standard deviations of the GWRF can be used to provide a reasonable estimate of the uncertainty caused by different aquifer properties, recharge rates, antecedent conditions, or hydrograph characteristics.

Click here for a complete copy of the report WRIR 00-4052 in PDF format (4.81MB)

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Benefits and Uses

The use of the GIS and flow models to investigate the interaction between ground water and Missouri River stage has provided valuable insight into the effects of alternative river management plans for similar areas along the entire lower Missouri River floodplain. Results of this analysis  allows planners, managers, and landowners to assess the impacts of managed spring rise and non-navigation low flows and on ground-water levels in a representative reach of the aquifer. The study has characterized the impact of stage fluctuations of large rivers on ground-water levels in their floodplains. These relations provide a greater understanding of the interaction between surface water and ground water in large river systems.


This study was jointly funded through cooperative agreements between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey and Resourcess Assessment, the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, and the Water Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Contact Address

Brian P. Kelly
U.S. Geological Survey
401 NW Capital Drive
Lee's Summit, Missouri 64086
PHONE: (816) 554-3489
FAX: (816) 554-9273

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