In-stream flow protection programs require accurate, real-time streamflow data to aid in the protection of aquatic ecosystems during winter base flow periods. In cold regions, however, winter streamflow often can only be estimated because in-channel ice causes variable backwater conditions and alters the stage-discharge relation. In this study, an automated dye dilution gauging system, a tracer gauge, was developed for measuring discharge in ice-affected streams. Rhodamine WT is injected into the stream at a constant rate, and downstream concentrations are measured with a submersible fluorometer. Data loggers control system operations, monitor key variables, and perform discharge calculations. Comparison of discharge from the tracer gauge and from a Cipoletti weir during periods of extensive ice cover indicated that the root-mean-square error of the tracer gauge was 0.029 m3 s−1, or 6.3% of average discharge for the study period. The tracer gauge system can provide much more accurate data than is currently available for streams that are strongly ice affected and, thus, could substantially improve management of in-stream flow protection programs during winter in cold regions. Care must be taken, however, to test for the validity of key assumptions, including complete mixing and conservative behavior of dye, no changes in storage, and no gains or losses of water to or from the stream along the study reach. These assumptions may be tested by measuring flow-weighted dye concentrations across the stream, performing dye mass balance analyses, and evaluating breakthrough curve behavior.
Additional publication details
Tracer gauge: an automated dye dilution gauging system for ice-affected streams