In cooperation with the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District for a collaborative study of the cumulative effects of water and channel management practices on stream and riparian ecology, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) compiled, analyzed, and summarized hydrologic information from long-term gaging stations on the lower Platte River to determine any significant temporal differences among six discrete periods during 1895-2006 and to interpret any significant changes in relation to changes in climatic conditions or other factors. A subset of 171 examined hydrologic indices (HIs) were selected for use as indices that (1) included most of the variance in the larger set of indices, (2) retained utility as indicators of the streamflow regime, and (3) provided information at spatial and temporal scale(s) that were most indicative of streamflow regime(s). The study included the most downstream station within the central Platte River segment that flowed to the confluence with the Loup River and all four active streamflow-gaging stations (2006) on the lower Platte River main stem extending from the confluence of the Loup River and Platte River to the confluence of the Platte River and Missouri River south of Omaha. The drainage areas of the five streamflow-gaging stations covered four (of eight) climate divisions in Nebraska?division 2 (north central), 3 (northeast), 5 (central), and 6 (east central).
Historical climate data and daily streamflow records from 1895 through 2006 at the five streamflow-gaging stations were divided into six 11-water-year periods: 1895?1905, 1934?44, 1951?61, 1966?76, 1985?95, and 1996?2006. Analysis of monthly climate variables?precipitation and Palmer Hydrological Drought Index?was used to determine the degree of hydroclimatic association between streamflow and climate. Except for the 1895?1905 period, data gaps in the streamflow record were filled by data estimation techniques, and 171 hydrologic indices were calculated using the Hydroecological Integrity Assessment Process software developed by the U.S. Geological Survey. A subset of 27 nonredundant indices (of the 171 indices) was selected using principal component analysis. Indices that described monthly streamflow?mean, maximum, minimum, skewness, and coefficients of variation?also were used. Comparison of these selected indices allowed determination of temporal differences among the six 11-water-year periods for each gaging station.
The lower Platte River basin was affected by moderate to severe drought conditions in the 1934?44 period. The widespread drought was preceded by mildly to moderately wet conditions in the 1895?1906 period, followed by incipient drought to incipiently wet conditions in the 1951?61 periods and mildly wet conditions in 1966?76 period, moderately wet conditions in the 1985?1995 period, and incipient drought to mildly wet conditions in the 1996?2006 period. Monthly streamflow of the Platte River from Duncan through Louisville, Nebraska, correlated significantly with the monthly Palmer Hydrological Drought Index. Temporal differences in median values of monthly-mean and monthly-maximum streamflow measured at Duncan, North Bend, and Ashland stations between the two moderately wet periods (1895?1905 and 1985?95) indicated that streamflow storage reservoirs and regulation some time after 1906 significantly reduced monthly streamflow magnitude and amplitude?the difference between the highest and lowest median values of monthly mean streamflow. Effects of storage reservoirs on the median values of monthly-minimum streamflow were less obvious. Temporal differences among the other five periods, from 1934 through 2006 when streamflow was affected by storage and regulation, indicated the predominant effects of contrasting climate conditions on median values of monthly mean, maximum, and minimum streamflow. Significant temporal differences in monthly streamflow values were evident mainly between the two periods of greatly