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Trends in base flows and extreme flows in the Beaver Kill Basin, Catskill Mountains, New York, 1915-94

August 1, 1999

Long-term records from five streamflow-gaging stations within and near the 300-square mile Beaver Kill Basin were analyzed to determine whether construction and presence of New York State Route 17 (NY 17), which was completed in the late 1960's, could have altered hydrologic processes in the basin and thereby adversely affected the basin's trout populations. The hypothesis investigated is that NY 17 has altered surface-water and shallow ground-water flowpaths where it parallels the stream and has increased runoff rates and thereby (1) increased the range in stream discharge (prolonged the base flows, decreased the low flows, and increased the high flows), and (2) altered stream-channel morphology through increased volume and velocity of stormflows.

Analyses of base flows, discharge-duration curves, stage-to-discharge relations, peak and bankfull discharges, and flow extremes at a downstream (Beaver Kill at Cooks Falls) and a small tributary (Little Beaver Kill at Livingston Manor) site provide only limited evidence that NY 17 affected hydrologic processes within the basin. These effects are best indicated by significant increases in the magnitude and (or) the frequency of moderate to large discharges (exceedence probabilities) on an instantaneous basis at the Beaver Kill at Cooks Falls site after 1965. Increases in stormflows can not be attributed solely to NY 17, however, because the trend was evident long before NY 17 was constructed. Changes in land use in parts of the watershed may have contributed to gradual and continuous increases in stormflows throughout the entire 80 (plus) years of record.

Changes in most base-flow and low-flow statistics for the downstream (Beaver Kill at Cooks Falls) site after 1965 are not statistically significant, but, changes in flow-duration curves and annual peak flows are evident. Flow-duration curves at this site indicate that there is a 16 percent increase in average daily flows after 1965. Annual peak flow data indicate that peak flows from storms recurring at 2-year (and longer) intervals after 1965 are significantly larger than those that recur at the same frequencies before 1965. The lack of comparable increases in peak flows from several nearby reference sites after 1965 indicate that the observed increases in peak flows may be unique to the Beaver Kill Basin.

Flow-duration curves and many base-flow and high-flow statistics for the small tributary paralleled by NY 17 in the in the upper reaches of the basin (Little Beaver Kill at Livingston Manor) appear to be considerably altered since NY 17 was constructed. Flow-duration curves at this site indicate that there is about a 54 percent increase in average daily flows after 1965. Increases in the ratio of average annual base flow to average annual flow until 1965 then subsequent decreases suggest an extreme affect of NY 17 on hydrology of the subbasin. The effect of NY 17 on hydrology of the Little Beaver Kill subbasin cannot be defined with certainty, however, because the flow record after 1965 is too short; discharge monitoring was discontinued in 1981.

The increases in peak stormflows in the lower Beaver Kill basin through the period of record may have increased the rates of bed-sediment erosion (degradation) and deposition and accelerated changes in stream-channel morphology, however, these possible effects were not examined. Suggestions for further investigation of the effects of NY 17 and of other factors on hydrology, channel morphology, fish habitat, and fish populations in the Beaver Kill Basin include (1) addition of streamflow gages or a creststage gage network at critical locations, (2) a review of engineering records and other aerial photographs for indications of changes in channel morphology, (3) compilation of temperature data and modeling spatial extent and magnitude of stressful summer temperatures (to selected trout species), and (4) confirming the extent and severity of toxic thermal episodes using in-situ fish toxicity tests.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1999
Title Trends in base flows and extreme flows in the Beaver Kill Basin, Catskill Mountains, New York, 1915-94
DOI 10.3133/ofr9865
Authors Barry P. Baldigo
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 98-65
Index ID ofr9865
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center

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