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Changes in streamflow characteristics in Wisconsin as related to precipitation and land use

January 19, 2016

Streamflow characteristics were determined for 15 longterm streamflow-gaging stations for the periods 1915–2008, 1915–68, and 1969–2008 to identify trends. Stations selected represent flow characteristics for the major river basins in Wisconsin. Trends were statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level at 13 of the 15 streamflow-gaging stations for various streamflow characteristics for 1915–2008. Most trends indicated increases in low flows for streams with agriculture as the dominant land use. The three most important findings are: increases in low flows and average flows in agricultural watersheds, decreases in flood peak discharge for many streams in both agricultural and forested watersheds, and climatic change occurred with increasing annual precipitation and changes in monthly occurrence of precipitation. When the 1915–68 period is compared to the 1969–2008 period, the annual 7-day low flow increased an average of 60 percent for nine streams in agricultural areas as compared to a 15 percent increase for the five forested streams. Average annual flow for the same periods increased 23 percent for the agriculture streams and 0.6 percent for the forested streams. The annual flood peak discharge for the same periods decreased 15 percent for agriculture streams and 8 percent for forested streams. The largest increase in the annual 7-day low flow was 117 percent, the largest increase in annual average flow was 41 percent, and the largest decrease in annual peak discharge was 51 percent. The trends in streamflow characteristics affect frequency characteristics, which are used for a variety of design and compliance purposes. The frequencies for the 1969–2008 period were compared to frequencies for the 1915–68 period. The 7-day, 10-year (Q7, 10) low flow increased 91 percent for nine agricultural streams, while the five forested streams had an increase of 18 percent. The 100-year flood peak discharge decreased an average of 15 percent for streams in the agriculture area and 27 percent for streams in the forested area. Increases in low flow for agriculture streams are attributed to changes in agricultural practices and land use as well as increased precipitation. The decrease in annual flood peak discharge with increased annual precipitation is less clear, but is attributed to increased infiltration from changes in agricultural practices and climatic changes. For future low-flow studies, the 1969–2008 period should be used to determine low-flow characteristics since it represents current (2014) conditions and was generally free of significant trends.

Publication Year 2016
Title Changes in streamflow characteristics in Wisconsin as related to precipitation and land use
DOI 10.3133/sir20155140
Authors Warren A. Gebert, Herbert S. Garn, William J. Rose
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2015-5140
Index ID sir20155140
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wisconsin Water Science Center