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.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Comparison of methods for determining streamflow requirements for aquatic habitat protection at selected sites on the Assabet and Charles Rivers, Eastern Massachusetts, 2000-02