Low-flow characteristics of streams in the Puget Sound region, Washington

Open-File Report 72-163




Periods of low streamflow are usually the most critical factor in relation to most water uses. The purpose of this report is to present data on low-flow characteristics of streams in the Puget Sound region, Washington, and to briefly explain some of the factors that influence low flow in the various basins. Presented are data on low-flow frequencies of streams in the Puget Sound region, as gathered at 150 gaging stations. Four indexes were computed from the flow-flow-frequency curves and were used as a basis to compare the low-flow characteristics of the streams. The indexes are the (1) low-flow-yield index, expressed in unit runoff per square mile; (2) base-flow index, or the ratio of the median 7-day low flow to the average discharge; (3) slope index, or slope of annual 7-day low-flow-frequency curve; and (4) spacing index, or spread between the 7-day and 183-day low-flow-frequency curves. The indexes showed a wide variation between streams due to the complex interrelation between climate, topography, and geology. The largest low-flow-yield indexes determined--greater than 1.5 cfs (cubic feet per second) per square mile--were for streams that head at high altitudes in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains and have their sources at glaciers. The smallest low-flow-yield indexes--less than 0.5 cfs per square mile--were for the small streams that drain the lowlands adjacent to Puget Sound. Indexes between the two extremes were for nonglacial streams that head at fairly high altitudes in areas of abundant precipitation. The base-flow index has variations that can be attributed to a basin's hydrogeology, with very little influence from climate. The largest base-flow indexes were obtained for streams draining permeable unconsolidated glacial and alluvial sediments in parts of the lowlands adjacent to Puget Sound. Large volume of ground water in these materials sustain flows during late summer. The smallest indexes were computed for streams draining areas underlain by relatively impermeable igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks or by relatively impermeable glacial till. Melt water from snow and ice influences the index for streams which originate at glaciers, and result in fairly large indexes--0.25 or greater. The slope index is influenced principally by the character of the geologic materials that underlie the basin. The largest slope indexes were computed for small streams that drain areas underlain by compact glacial till or consolidated sedimentary rocks. In contrast, lowland streams that flow through areas underlain by unconsolidated alluvia and glacial deposits have the smallest indexes. Small slope indexes also are characteristic of glacial streams and show the moderating effect of the snow and ice storage in the high mountain basins. The spacing indexes are similar to the slope indexes in that they are affected by the character of the geologic materials underlying a basin. The largest spacing indexes are characteristic of small streams whose basins are underlain by glacial till or by consolidated sedimentary rocks. The smallest indexes were computed for some lowland streams draining areas underlain by permeable glacial and alluvial sediments. The indexes do not appear to have a definite relation to each other. The low-flow-yield indexes are not related to either the slope or spacing indexes because snow and ice storage has a great influence on the low-flow-yield index, while the character of the geologic materials influences the slope and spacing indexes. A relation exists between the slope and spacing indexes but many anomalies occur that cannot be explained by the geology of the basins.

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Low-flow characteristics of streams in the Puget Sound region, Washington
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Open-File Report
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162 p. ill., maps (1 col.) ; 27 cm.