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Geomorphic Classification and Evaluation of Channel Width and Emergent Sandbar Habitat Relations on the Lower Platte River, Nebraska

April 16, 2011

This report presents a summary of geomorphic characteristics extracted from aerial imagery for three broad segments of the Lower Platte River. This report includes a summary of the longitudinal multivariate classification in Elliott and others (2009) and presents a new analysis of total channel width and habitat variables. Three segments on the lower 102.8 miles of the Lower Platte River are addressed in this report: the Loup River to the Elkhorn River (70 miles long), the Elkhorn River to Salt Creek (6.9 miles long), and Salt Creek to the Missouri River (25.9 miles long). The locations of these segments were determined by the locations of tributaries potentially significant to the hydrology or sediment supply of the Lower Platte River.
This report summarizes channel characteristics as mapped from July 2006 aerial imagery including river width, valley width, channel curvature, and in-channel habitat features. In-channel habitat measurements were not made under consistent hydrologic conditions and must be considered general estimates of channel condition in late July 2006. Longitudinal patterns in these features are explored and are summarized in the context of the longitudinal multivariate classification in Elliott and others (2009) for the three Lower Platte River segments. Detailed descriptions of data collection and classification methods are described in Elliott and others (2009). Nesting data for the endangered interior least tern (Sternula antillarum) and threatened piping plover (Charadrius melodus) from 2006 through 2009 are examined within the context of the multivariate classification and Lower Platte River segments.
The widest reaches of the Lower Platte River are located in the segment downstream from the Loup River to the Elkhorn River. This segment also has the widest valley and highest degree of braiding of the three segments and many large vegetated islands. The short segment of river between the Elkhorn River and Salt Creek has a fairly low valley width and high channel sinuosities at larger scales. The segment from Salt Creek to the Missouri River has narrow valleys and generally low channel sinuosity. Tern and plover nest sites from 2006 through 2009 in the multi-scale multivariate classification indicated relative nesting selection of cluster 2 reaches among the four-cluster classification and reaches containing clusters 2, 3, and 6 from the seven-cluster classification. These classes, with the exception of cluster 6 are common downstream from the Elkhorn River.
Trends in total channel width indicated that reaches dominated by dark vegetation (islands) are the widest on the Lower Platte River. Reaches with high percentages of dry sand and dry sand plus light vegetation were the narrowest reaches. This suggests that narrow channel reaches have sufficient transport capacity to maintain sandbars under recent (2006) flow regimes and are likely to be most amenable to maintaining tern and plover habitat in the Lower Platte River. Further investigations into the dynamics of emergent sandbar habitat and the effects of bank stabilization on in-channel habitats will require the collection and analysis of new data, particularly detailed elevation information and an assessment of existing bank stabilization structures.

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