Hydraulics of Freshwater Mussel Habitat in Select Reaches of the Big River, Missouri

Scientific Investigations Report 2022-5002
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
By: , and 



The Big River is a tributary to the Meramec River in south-central Missouri. It drains an area that has been historically one of the largest lead producers in the world, and associated mine wastes have contaminated sediments in much of the river corridor. This study investigated hydraulic conditions in four study reaches to evaluate the potential contribution of physical habitat dynamics to mechanical and physiological stress on native mussel populations. We quantified hydraulic conditions and relative bed stability in previously identified and delineated mussel habitats (MHs) and in the surrounding reaches to refine understanding of the reach-scale (about 1 kilometer) hydraulic characteristics that affect the distribution of mussel aggregations in the river. Two-dimensional hydrodynamic models were compiled for discharge scenarios from base flow (90-percent flow exceedance) to the approximate bankfull discharge (2-year mean return interval peak flow) for the reaches. Discharge, velocity, and water-surface elevation data were collected at all four study reaches at various discharges to calibrate the models across a range of discharges. Shields values to predict incipient motion of the substrate were computed for the MHs and surrounding reaches using bed-surface sediment data collected during this study and previous studies.

The distributions of hydraulic values at the range of simulated discharge scenarios were significantly different among the MHs. Depth values in the MHs ranged from 0.03 to 5.7 meters, with parts remaining dry at some lower flow scenarios (for example, 90- and 50-percent flow exceedance). MH velocities and bed shear stresses (shear stresses) reached 3.1 meters per second and 31 newtons per square meter, respectively. Through the range of simulated discharges, velocity and shear stress within the MHs were limited by reach-scale hydraulic behavior.

Our calculations predicted sand mobility within at least 50 percent of the wetted area of all four MHs for discharges from the 50-percent exceedance flow to the approximate bankfull discharge, whereas 50th-percentile (median) particle size fraction mobility was only predicted within a small area of one of the MHs at the 2-year peak discharge. These results indicate that finer size fractions are mobile within the four MHs, but the larger framework grains of the substrate are predominantly stable at the most frequent discharges.

Our results indicate that suitable mussel habitat on the Big River cannot be identified within a narrow range of velocities, depths, and shear stresses. However, the consistent patterns of sediment mobility and the slow increase of hydraulic forces with increasing discharge within all the MHs indicate that flushing flows at low discharges and coarse sediment stability at higher discharges are important for habitat suitability in the Big River. These patterns of sediment mobility are comparable among the robust and depauperate MHs, indicating that the depauperate beds are likely not impaired by bed instability or siltation. Coarse sediment stability up to bankfull discharges further indicates that bed instability is not widespread in these modeled reaches and is likely not related to the spatial distribution of mussels in these locations.

Suggested Citation

Roberts, M.O., Jacobson, R.B., and Erwin, S.O., 2022, Hydraulics of freshwater mussel habitat in select reaches of the Big River, Missouri: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2022–5002, 49 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20225002.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods of Study
  • Results of Hydrodynamic Models and Sediment Stability Assessments
  • Factors Controlling Mussel Habitats in the Big River
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1
  • Appendix 2
  • Appendix 3
  • Appendix 4
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydraulics of freshwater mussel habitat in select reaches of the Big River, Missouri
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2022-5002
DOI 10.3133/sir20225002
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Columbia Environmental Research Center
Description Report: viii, 49 p.; Data Release; Dataset
Country United States
State Missouri
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details