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The estimated runoff from the Illinois River basin of 1,660 square miles has averaged 1,160,000 acre-feet per year during the water years 1938-56, equivalent to an average annual runoff depth of 13.1 inches. About 47 percent of the streamflow is contributed from drainage in Arkansas, where an average of 550,000 acre-ft per year runs off from 755 square miles, 45.5 percent of the total drainage area.
The streamflow is highly variable. Twenty-two years of record for Illinois River near Tahlequah, Okla., shows a variation in runoff for the water year 1945 in comparison with 1954 in a ratio of almost 10 to 1. Runoff in 1927 may have exceeded that of 1945, according to records for White River at Beaver, Ark., the drainage basin just east of the Illinois River basin. Variation in daily discharge is suggested by a frequency analysis of low flows at the gaging station near Tahlequah, Okla. The mean flow at that site is 901 cfs (cubic feet per second), the median daily flow is 350 cfs, and the lowest 30-day mean flow in a year probably will be less than 130 cfs half of the time and less than 20 cfs every 10 years on the average.
The higher runoff tends to occur in the spring months, March to May, a 3-month period that, on the average, accounts for almost half of the annual flow. High runoff may occur during any month in the year, but in general, the streamflow is the lowest in the summer. The mean monthly flow of Illinois River near Tahlequah, Okla., for September is about 11 percent of that for May. Records show that there is flow throughout the year in Illinois River and its principal tributaries Osage Creek, Flint Creek and Barren Fork.
The high variability in streamflow in this region requires the development of storage by impoundment if maximum utilization of the available water supplies is to be attained. For example, a 120-day average low flow of 22 cfs occurred in 1954 at Illinois River near Tahlequah, Okla. To have maintained the flow at 350 cfs, the median daily flow during the 19-year base period, an impoundment at that site would have required a usable storage of 185,000 acre-ft to satisfy this demand during the drought years 1954-1956.
The surface waters of the Illinois River basin are excellent quality being suitable for municipal, agriculture and most industrial uses. The average concentration of the dissolved mineral content is about 105 ppm (parts per million) and the hardness about 85 ppm. The water is slightly alkaline, having a range of pH values from 7.2 to 8.0.
This report gives the estimated average discharge at gaging stations and approximations of average discharge at the State line for 3 sub-basins during the 19-year period October 1937 to September 1956, used as a base period in this report. Duration-of-flow data for various percentages of the time are shown for the period of observed record at the gaging stations; similar data are estimated for the selected base period. Storage requirements to sustain flow during the recent drought years are given for 3 stations. The streamflow records in the basin are presented on a monthly and annual basis through September 1957; provisional records for 3 stations are included through July 1958 for correlation purposes. Results of discharge measurements are given for miscellaneous sites where low-flow observations have been made.
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Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Surface waters of Illinois River basin in Arkansas and Oklahoma