Hydrologic changes in New Jersey stream basins resulting from human activity can affect the flow and ecology of the streams. To assess future changes in streamflow resulting from human activity an understanding of the natural variability of streamflow is needed. The natural variability can be classified using Ecologically Relevant Hydrologic Indices (ERHIs). ERHIs are defined as selected streamflow statistics that characterize elements of the flow regime that substantially affect biological health and ecological sustainability. ERHIs are used to quantitatively characterize aspects of the streamflow regime, including magnitude, duration, frequency, timing, and rate of change. Changes in ERHI values can occur as a result of human activity, and changes in ERHIs over time at various stream locations can provide information about the degree of alteration in aquatic ecosystems at or near those locations. New Jersey streams can be divided into four classes (A, B, C, or D), where streams with similar ERHI values (determined from cluster analysis) are assigned the same stream class.
In order to detect and quantify changes in ERHIs at selected streamflow-gaging stations, a 'baseline' period is needed. Ideally, a baseline period is a period of continuous daily streamflow record at a gaging station where human activity along the contributing stream reach or in the stream's basin is minimal. Because substantial urbanization and other development had already occurred before continuous streamflow-gaging stations were installed, it is not possible to identify baseline periods that meet this criterion for many reaches in New Jersey. Therefore, the baseline period for a considerably altered basin can be defined as a period prior to a substantial human-induced change in the drainage basin or stream reach (such as regulations or diversions), or a period during which development did not change substantially.
Index stations (stations with minimal urbanization) were defined as streamflow-gaging stations in basins that contain less than 15 percent urban land use throughout the period of continuous streamflow record. A minimum baseline period of record for each stream class was determined by comparing the variability of selected ERHIs among consecutive 5-, 10-, 15-, and 20-year time increments for index stations. On the basis of this analysis, stream classes A and D were assigned a minimum of 20 years of continuous record as a baseline period and stream classes B and C, a minimum of 10 years.
Baseline periods were calculated for 85 streamflow-gaging stations in New Jersey with 10 or more years of continuous daily streamflow data, and the values of 171 ERHIs also were calculated for these baseline periods for each station. Baseline periods were determined by using historical streamflow-gaging station data, estimated changes in impervious surface in the drainage basin, and statistically significant changes in annual base flow and runoff.
Historical records were reviewed to identify years during which regulation, diversions, or withdrawals occurred in the drainage basins. Such years were not included in baseline periods of record. For some sites, the baseline period of record was shorter than the minimum period of record specified for the given stream class. In such cases, the baseline period was rated as 'poor'.
Impervious surface was used as an indicator of urbanization and change in streamflow characteristics owing to increases in storm runoff and decreases in base flow. Percentages of impervious surface were estimated for 85 streamflow-gaging stations from available municipal population-density data by using a regression model. Where the period of record was sufficiently long, all years after the impervious surface exceeded 10 to 20 percent were excluded from the baseline period. The percentage of impervious surface also was used as a criterion in assigning qualitative ratings to baseline periods.
Changes in trends of annual base fl