Estimates of peak and time of peak streamflow for small watersheds (less than about 640 acres) in a suburban to urban, low-slope setting are needed for drainage design that is cost-effective and risk-mitigated. During 2007-10, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Harris County Flood Control District and the Texas Department of Transportation, developed a method to estimate peak and time of peak streamflow from excess rainfall for 10- to 640-acre watersheds in the Houston, Texas, metropolitan area. To develop the method, 24 watersheds in the study area with drainage areas less than about 3.5 square miles (2,240 acres) and with concomitant rainfall and runoff data were selected. The method is based on conjunctive analysis of rainfall and runoff data in the context of the unit hydrograph method and the rational method. For the unit hydrograph analysis, a gamma distribution model of unit hydrograph shape (a gamma unit hydrograph) was chosen and parameters estimated through matching of modeled peak and time of peak streamflow to observed values on a storm-by-storm basis. Watershed mean or watershed-specific values of peak and time to peak ("time to peak" is a parameter of the gamma unit hydrograph and is distinct from "time of peak") of the gamma unit hydrograph were computed. Two regression equations to estimate peak and time to peak of the gamma unit hydrograph that are based on watershed characteristics of drainage area and basin-development factor (BDF) were developed. For the rational method analysis, a lag time (time-R), volumetric runoff coefficient, and runoff coefficient were computed on a storm-by-storm basis. Watershed-specific values of these three metrics were computed. A regression equation to estimate time-R based on drainage area and BDF was developed. Overall arithmetic means of volumetric runoff coefficient (0.41 dimensionless) and runoff coefficient (0.25 dimensionless) for the 24 watersheds were used to express the rational method in terms of excess rainfall (the excess rational method). Both the unit hydrograph method and excess rational method are shown to provide similar estimates of peak and time of peak streamflow. The results from the two methods can be combined by using arithmetic means. A nomograph is provided that shows the respective relations between the arithmetic-mean peak and time of peak streamflow to drainage areas ranging from 10 to 640 acres. The nomograph also shows the respective relations for selected BDF ranging from undeveloped to fully developed conditions. The nomograph represents the peak streamflow for 1 inch of excess rainfall based on drainage area and BDF; the peak streamflow for design storms from the nomograph can be multiplied by the excess rainfall to estimate peak streamflow. Time of peak streamflow is readily obtained from the nomograph. Therefore, given excess rainfall values derived from watershed-loss models, which are beyond the scope of this report, the nomograph represents a method for estimating peak and time of peak streamflow for applicable watersheds in the Houston metropolitan area. Lastly, analysis of the relative influence of BDF on peak streamflow is provided, and the results indicate a 0:04log10 cubic feet per second change of peak streamflow per positive unit of change in BDF. This relative change can be used to adjust peak streamflow from the method or other hydrologic methods for a given BDF to other BDF values; example computations are provided.
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USGS Numbered Series
A method for estimating peak and time of peak streamflow from excess rainfall for 10- to 640-acre watersheds in the Houston, Texas, metropolitan area