A comparison of high-resolution specific conductance-based end-member mixing analysis and a graphical method for baseflow separation of four streams in hydrologically challenging agricultural watersheds

Hydrological Processes
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Abstract

Quantifying the relative contributions of different sources of water to a stream hydrograph is important for understanding the hydrology and water quality dynamics of a given watershed. To compare the performance of two methods of hydrograph separation, a graphical program [baseflow index (BFI)] and an end-member mixing analysis that used high-resolution specific conductance measurements (SC-EMMA) were used to estimate daily and average long-term slowflow additions of water to four small, primarily agricultural streams with different dominant sources of water (natural groundwater, overland flow, subsurface drain outflow, and groundwater from irrigation). Because the result of hydrograph separation by SC-EMMA is strongly related to the choice of slowflow and fastflow end-member values, a sensitivity analysis was conducted based on the various approaches reported in the literature to inform the selection of end-members. There were substantial discrepancies among the BFI and SC-EMMA, and neither method produced reasonable results for all four streams. Streams that had a small difference in the SC of slowflow compared with fastflow or did not have a monotonic relationship between streamflow and stream SC posed a challenge to the SC-EMMA method. The utility of the graphical BFI program was limited in the stream that had only gradual changes in streamflow. The results of this comparison suggest that the two methods may be quantifying different sources of water. Even though both methods are easy to apply, they should be applied with consideration of the streamflow and/or SC characteristics of a stream, especially where anthropogenic water sources (irrigation and subsurface drainage) are present.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A comparison of high-resolution specific conductance-based end-member mixing analysis and a graphical method for baseflow separation of four streams in hydrologically challenging agricultural watersheds
Series title Hydrological Processes
DOI 10.1002/hyp.10378
Volume 29
Issue 11
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) National Water Quality Assessment Program
Description 13 p.
First page 2521
Last page 2533