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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Determining Travel Time and Stream Mixing using Tracers and Empirical Equations


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 28 No. 5, p. 1387-1395
    Received: July 24, 1998

    * Corresponding author(s): imverstr@usgs.gov
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  1. I. M. Verstraeten *,
  2. P. J. Soenksen,
  3. G. B. Engel and
  4. L. D. Miller
  1. U.S. Geological Survey, Room 406 Federal Building, 100 Centennial Mall, Lincoln, NE 68508.



Water-supply managers need adequate warning to protect water supplies if a contaminant is spilled in an upgradient tributary. The city of Lincoln draws water from alluvium associated with the Platte River near Ashland, eastern Nebraska. Using constant-rate injection methods and a conservative tracer, travel time and degree of mixing of contaminants in the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers were evaluated in 1995 and 1996. The results indicate that, for flows of 584 to 162 m3/s in the Platte River at Ashland with 13 to 28% of its flow contributed by the Elkhorn River, 8.2 to 13.2 h are required for the leading edge of a chemical plume to travel from the Elkhorn River at Waterloo to the Platte River at Ashland. The peak concentration of a chemical spilled as a slug in the Elkhorn River near Waterloo would pass the well field after 11.3 to 16.1 h. Existing empirical equations for calculation of travel time were shown to apply to reaches of streams studied, but underestimated the leading edge up to 14% and overestimated the plateau concentration up to 11% at Site 5. However, time of travel may be influenced by the relative contribution of a tributary. The plateau concentration of the chemical in the Platte River at Ashland was 45 to 60% of its concentration in the Elkhorn River. The degree of mixing of the tracer in the Platte River at Ashland increased from 53 to 65% as the relative contribution of the Elkhorn River increased.

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