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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-137
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-137
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 18 Apr 2019

Research article | 18 Apr 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Influence of multi-decadal land use, irrigation practices and climate on riparian corridors across the Upper Missouri River Headwaters Basin, Montana

Melanie K. Vanderhoof1, Jay R. Christensen2, and Laurie C. Alexander3 Melanie K. Vanderhoof et al.
  • 1US Geological Survey, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, P.O. Box 25046, DFC, MS980, Denver, CO 80225, USA
  • 2US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory, 26 W. Martin Luther King Dr., MS-642, Cincinnati, OH 45268, USA
  • 3US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Center for Environmental Assessment, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW (8623-P), Washington, DC 20460, USA

Abstract. The Upper Missouri River Headwaters Basin (36 400 km2) depends on its river corridors to support irrigated agriculture and world-class trout fisheries. We evaluated trends (1984–2016) in riparian wetness, an indicator of riparian condition, in peak irrigation months (June, July, August) for 158 km2 of riparian area across the basin using the Landsat Normalized Difference Wetness Index (NDWI). We found that 8 of the 19 riparian reaches across the basin showed a significant drying trend over this period, including all three basin outlet reaches along the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers. The influence of upstream climate was quantified using per reach random forest regressions. Although much of the interannual variability was explained by climate, especially by drought indices and annual precipitation, the significant drying trends persisted in the NDWI-climate model residuals, indicating that trends were not entirely attributable to climate. Over the same period we documented a 506 % increase in center-pivot irrigation and an associated 39 % decrease in non-center pivot irrigation basin-wide. Riparian reaches with a drying trend had a greater shift towards center-pivot irrigation relative to riparian reaches without such a trend (p < 0.1). The drying trend, however, did not extend to river discharge. Over the same period, stream gages (n = 7) showed a positive correlation with riparian wetness (p < 0.05), but no trend in summer river discharge, suggesting that riparian areas may be more sensitive to changes in irrigation return flows, relative to river discharge. Identifying trends in riparian vegetation is a critical precursor to enhancing the resiliency of river systems and associated riparian corridors.

Melanie K. Vanderhoof et al.
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Melanie K. Vanderhoof et al.
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Short summary
We evaluated trends (1984–2016) in riparian wetness across the Upper Missouri River Headwaters Basin during peak irrigation months (June, July, August). We found that 8 of the 19 riparian reaches across the basin showed a significant drying trend from 1984–2016. The temporal drying trends persisted after removing variability attributable to climate. Instead, the drying trends co-occurred with a documented basin-wide shift towards center-pivot irrigation.
We evaluated trends (1984–2016) in riparian wetness across the Upper Missouri River Headwaters...
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