Methods for Estimating Peak Discharges and Unit Hydrographs for Streams in the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4108

Prepared in cooperation with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County



Procedures for estimating peak discharges and unit hydrographs were developed for streams in the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in response to a need for better techniques for characterizing the flow of streams. The procedures presented in this report provide the means for estimating unit hydrographs as part of the process used in watershed modeling and(or) design of stormwater-management structures. The procedures include three statistical relations for use in estimating storm peak discharge, unit-hydrograph peak discharge, and unit-hydrograph lag time. A final component of the procedures is the development of a dimensionless unit hydrograph developed from streamflow and rainfall data collected during the 1995-2000 water years at 25 streamgaging stations and up to 60 raingages in the city and county. The statistical relation to estimate the storm peak discharge is based on analyses of observed peak discharges regressed against rainfall and basin characteristics using a database of 412 observations from 61 storm events among the 25 gaging stations. The rainfall characteristics included basin-average rainfall amounts as well as estimates of the maximum and minimum storm rainfall in the basin. The basin characteristics consisted of land-use information and other physical basin characteristics, such as drainage area, channel length, channel slope, percentage of impervious area, and percentage of the basin served by detention. The analyses resulted in a relation that can be used for estimating storm peak discharge based on drainage area, basin-average rainfall, and impervious area. Average unit hydrographs were developed for 24 of 25 streamgaging stations, using from three to nine storms at each site. The average unit hydrograph for each station was converted into four classes of unit hydrographs with durations corresponding to one-fourth, one-third, one-half, and three-fourths of the station-average lag time. For 23 sites, the lag-time-duration hydrographs were then translated into dimensionless unit hydrographs by dividing time ordinates by the lag time and discharge ordinates by peak discharge. For each lag-time-duration class, the dimensionless unit hydrographs for the sites were combined to create an average dimensionless unit hydrograph. The four average dimensionless unit hydrographs were later tested (with estimates of unit-hydrograph peak discharges and lag times) for selection of an overall dimensionless unit hydrograph to be used at ungaged sites in the study area. The two sites where the procedures did not produce unit hydrographs that could be included in the development of the overall dimensionless unit hydrograph had the smallest drainage areas among the sites used in the investigation. The statistical relations for estimating unit-hydrograph peak discharge and lag time were developed by regressing the dependent variables against explanatory variables that describe the basin characteristics. The statistical analyses resulted in a relation for use in estimating a unit-hydrograph peak discharge based on the drainage area. The estimation of the unit-hydrograph lag time is based on the drainage area and percentage of land use in the basin classified as 'woods/brush.' Both relations have coefficients of determination (R2 values) of 0.9 or better. The three components for estimating a unit hydrograph are the dimensionless unit hydrograph and two statistical relations for estimating the unit-hydrograph peak discharge and lag time. These components were applied by using each of the four lag-time-duration average dimensionless unit hydrographs to determine which would be selected as the final overall dimensionless unit hydrograph for streams in the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Comparisons of the simulated and observed hydrographs were based on the following: (1) hydrograph width at 50 percent of the peak discharge, (2) hydrograph width at 75 percent of the peak discharge, (3) peak discharge

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USGS Numbered Series
Methods for Estimating Peak Discharges and Unit Hydrographs for Streams in the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
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U.S. Geological Survey
v, 50 p.
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