Elk River Basin - Physical Features
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Streams/Watershed Areas | Land Use/Cover
Geology/Physiographic Regions | Soils | Springs

Elk River 2.JPG (468109 bytes)Streams and Watershed Areas -- Streams flow in a network and grow in size and capacity from their headwaters until they flow into another stream or river. Hydrologists characterize stream size by assigning them an ‘order’.   For instance, a first order stream has no streams that drain into it. When two first order streams flow into one another, a second order stream is created.   Similarly, when two second order streams flow into one another, a third order stream is created, and so forth.

What is a watershed? A watershed is any area of land on which rain falls and drains into a river system.   Each river has its own watershed. The land area making a watershed is bound on each side by a divide.   On the other side of the divide, the water flows towards another river system.

The Elk River begins near Pineville, Missouri, where Big Sugar Creek and Little Sugar Creek converge. The Elk River flows into the impounded Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees in Oklahoma. The entire basin is 1,032 square miles, 866 of which lie within the state of Missouri. Eight sub-basins comprise the Elk River Basin, and are listed below.

Sub-basin name Number of streams (>3 order) Total stream miles
Lost Creek 4 50.3
Buffalo Creek 9 72.4
Indian Creek 68 254.1
Elk River 29 177.6
Big Sugar Creek 84 340.2
Little Sugar Creek 34 170.1
Honey Creek 6 50.3
Elk River basin (total) 234 1115

Land Use/Cover -- The quality of the water that drains through a watershed is affected by the type of physical features within the watershed. One measure of physical features land cover. Land cover is measured by looking at aerial photographs and calculating area of forest, grassland, agriculture, and urban area that can be seen on the photograph.   Land use/land cover within the Elk River Watershed consists of 50% forest and 50% pasture. Historically, land cover was 60% forest, 5% prairie, and 35% woodlands, glades, and savannas. Today, however, much of the land has been converted for use as pasture for free-ranging cattle and concentrated animal feeding operations
Geology/Physiographic Regions -- The Elk River Basin lies completely within The Ozark Plateaus physiographic region. The basin lies on the Springfield plateau within the larger Ozark Dome structure. A dome is a geologic structure that is high in the center, surrounded by layers of rock sloping away from its center.

The Ozark Dome was created over 500 million years ago when volcanic activity in the southwest corner of the state created the St. Francois Mountains.   These mountains are the highest point of the Ozark Dome. When this uplift was occurring, there was also a shallow sea covering the area surrounding the St. Francois Mountains, including the area we now know as the James River Basin.   As the sea rose and receded, it left behind layers of sediment that eventually became rock over many years.   This is what is termed ‘sedimentary rock’.   These rock layers are higher in elevation nearer to the St. Francois uplift, forming the Springfield and Salem plateaus. Since the rock is now exposed, weathering processes have eroded away the top layers, making the older layers more visible.

Elk River Basin is predominantly of limestone, shale, and sandstone. Limestone is very soluble, and can dissolve fairly easily when in contact with water/rain. This results in sinkholes, caves, and springs. Several such areas are found within the Elk River Basin, particularly in the northern section and from Noel, Missouri, south into Arkansas.

Soils -- Many different types of soils are found in the Elk River Basin. Soil type affects the amount of runoff reaching streams and the amount of suspended sediment carried into streams. The Elk River Basin is characterized by relatively good quality soils. Read more about area soils at http://www.conservation.mo.gov/fish/watershed/elk/geology/010getxt.htm

Miscellaneous geology:

See what else was happening when the Ozark Dome was being formed!

Geologic Time Scale
Time Division Name Time Span

(mya = million years ago)

Major Events
Precambrian Hadean Eon 4,600 to 3,800 mya Earth's Birth
Archaean Eon 3,800 to 2,500 mya Earliest life
Proterozoic Eon 2,500 to 544 mya St. Francois Mtns.
Paleozoic Era Cambrian Period 544 to 505 mya Marine deposition
Ordovician Period 505 to 440 mya Marine deposition
Silurian Period 440 to 410 mya Erosion
Devonian Period 410 to 360 mya Erosion
Mississippian Period 360 to 325 mya Marine deposition
Pennsylvanian Period 325 to 286 mya Deposition & erosion
Permian Period 286 to 245 mya Uplift and erosion
Mesozoic Era Triassic Period 245 to 208 mya Erosion
Jurassic Period 208 to 146 mya Erosion
Cretaceous Period 146 to 65 mya Erosion
Cenozoic Era Tertiary Period Paleocene Epoch 65 to 57.8 mya Erosion
Eocene Epoch .57.8 to 36.6 mya
Oligocene Epoch 36.6 to 23.7 mya Age of Mammals
Miocene Epoch 23.7 to 5.3 mya Ice Ages
Pliocene Epoch  5.3 to 1.8 mya
Quaternary Period Pleistocene Epoch 1.8 to 0.01 mya Ice Ages
Holocene Epoch 0.01 mya to Present Age of Man

Springs -- The Elk River Basin is characterized by many springs, resulting from the Karst formations. Below is a list of springs in the basin. (image source)





Ford Spring
Weatherspoon Spring Christian Spring Deer Lick Spring
Shannon Spring Elkhorn Springs Blowing Springs
Macedonia Spring Kelly Springs Winton Springs
Lentz Spring Whittaker Spring Jefferson Spring
He Hanken Spring Flag Pond School Spring Bear Spring

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Missouri Department
of Natural Resources

Missouri Watershed Information Network (MoWIN)
Send comments to: mowin1@missouri.edu
205 Agricultural Engineering
Columbia, MO 65211
Phone: (573) 882-0085
Toll Free: (MO only): 1-877-H20-shed (426-7433)
Fax: (573) 884-5650

Page last updated August 26, 2008