• river management;
  • hydrologic variability;
  • water policy;
  • water allocation;
  • instream flow;
  • decision making

ABSTRACT: Efforts are under way to recover habitat for several threatened and endangered species in and along the Platte River in central Nebraska. A proposed recovery program for these species requires a means of characterizing “wet” versus “normal” versus “dry” hydrologic conditions in order to set corresponding Platte River instream flow targets. Methods of characterizing hydrologic conditions in real time were investigated for this purpose. Initially, 10 watershed variables were identified as potentially valuable indicators of hydrologic conditions. Ultimately, six multiple linear regression equations were developed for six periods of the year using a subset of these variables expressed as frequencies of nonexceedence. The adequacy of these equations for characterizing conditions was assessed by evaluating their historic correlation to subsequent flow in the central Platte River (1947–1994). These equations explained 54 to 82 percent of variability in the observed flow exceedences in the validation datasets, depending upon the period of year evaluated. These equations will provide initial criteria for setting applicable flow targets to determine, in real time, whether water regulation projects associated with the species recovery effort can divert or store flows without conflicting with recovery objectives.