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Relations Among River Stage, Rainfall, Ground-Water Levels, and Stage at Two Missouri River Flood Plain Wetlands WRIR01-4123


Missouri River near Rocheport, MIssouri

Wetland TC-1 near Rocheport, Missouri


Brian P. Kelly, Project Chief

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The source of water is important to the ecological function of Missouri River flood-plain wetlands. There are four potential sources of water to flood-plain wetlands: direct flow from the river channel during high river stage, ground-water movement into the wetlands in response to river-stage changes and aquifer recharge, direct precipitation, and runoff from surrounding uplands. Concurrent measurements of river stage, rainfall, ground-water level, and wetland stage were compared for two Missouri River flood-plain wetlands located near Rocheport, Missouri, to characterize the spatial and temporal relations between river stage, rainfall, ground-water levels, and wetland stage, determine the source of water to each wetland, and compare measured and estimated stage and ground-water levels at each site. The two sites chosen for this study were wetland NC-5, a non-connected, 50-feet deep scour constantly filled with water, formed during the flood of 1993, and wetland TC-1, a shallow, temporary wetland intermittently filled with water. Because these two wetlands bracket a range of wetland types of the Missouri River flood plain, the responses of other Missouri River wetlands to changes in river stage, rainfall, and runoff should be similar to the responses exhibited by wetlands NC-5 and TC-1.

For wetlands deep enough to intersect the ground-water table in the alluvial aquifer, such as wetland NC-5, the ground-water response factor can estimate flood-plain wetland stage changes in response to known river-stage changes. Measured maximum stage and ground-water-level changes at NC-5 fall within the range of estimated changes using the ground-water response factor. Measured maximum ground-water-level changes at TC-1 are similar to, but consistently greater than the estimated values, and are most likely the result of alluvial deposits with higher than average hydraulic conductivity located between wetland TC-1 and the Missouri River.

Similarity between ground-water level and stage hydrography at wetland NC-5 indicate that ground-water-level fluctuations caused by river-stage changes control the stage of wetland NC-5. A 2-day lag time exists between river-stage changes and ground water and stage changes at wetland NC-5. The lack of a measurable response of wetland NC-5 stage to rainfall indicate that rainfall is not a large source of water to wetland NC-5. Stage in wetland TC-1 only increased at high river stage in June and July 1999, and from runoff caused by local rainfall during the winter. The 2-day lag time between peak stages at wetland TC-1 and peak Missouri River stages compared to the 1-day lag time between Missouri River stage and ground-water peaks at wetland TC-1 indicates ground-water flow does not directly affect wetland stage at TC-1, but surface-water flow does affect wetland stage at TC-1 during high river stage. Comparing wetland TC-1 stage to potential water sources indicates the most likely explanation for the rise in stage at wetland TC-1 is surface runoff supplied via seepage through the levees and upward flow of ground water through alluvial deposits of higher hydraulic conductivity during high river stage. The rate of decrease in wetland TC-1 stage was limited by the rate at which ground-water level decreased. Stage response to rainfall at wetland TC-1 during the winter months and no response to greater rainfall amounts during spring and summer months indicate that evapotranspiration may limit the affect of rainfall on stage at wetland TC-1 during the growing season.

Click here for a complete copy of the report WRIR 01-4123 in PDF format (965KB).

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Benefits and Uses

This study provides much needed spatial and temporal information on wetland hydrology with respect to river stage, ground-water levels, and rainfall. Determining the availability of wetland habitat to migratory and resident wildlife by characterizing the spatial and temporal relations between river stage, ground-water levels, precipitation, and wetland water depths will help resource professionals direct wetland conservation in the lower Missouri River flood plain. Public and private resource agencies can  use this information to prioritize areas and wetland types for either public acquisition or private land enhancement of wetlands and enhance wetland delineation, construction, and restoration efforts in the lower Missouri River flood plain.


This study was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7. 

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 Seal


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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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