Flow and water-quality models are being used to support the development of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans for the Klamath River downstream of Upper Klamath Lake (UKL) in south-central Oregon. For riverine reaches, the RMA-2 and RMA-11 models were used, whereas the CE-QUAL-W2 model was used to simulate pooled reaches. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was asked to review the most upstream of these models, from Link River Dam at the outlet of UKL downstream through the first pooled reach of the Klamath River from Lake Ewauna to Keno Dam. Previous versions of these models were reviewed in 2009 by USGS. Since that time, important revisions were made to correct several problems and address other issues. This review documents an assessment of the revised models, with emphasis on the model revisions and any remaining issues.
The primary focus of this review is the 19.7-mile Lake Ewauna to Keno Dam reach of the Klamath River that was simulated with the CE-QUAL-W2 model. Water spends far more time in the Lake Ewauna to Keno Dam reach than in the 1-mile Link River reach that connects UKL to the Klamath River, and most of the critical reactions affecting water quality upstream of Keno Dam occur in that pooled reach. This model review includes assessments of years 2000 and 2002 current conditions scenarios, which were used to calibrate the model, as well as a natural conditions scenario that was used as the reference condition for the TMDL and was based on the 2000 flow conditions. The natural conditions scenario included the removal of Keno Dam, restoration of the Keno reef (a shallow spot that was removed when the dam was built), removal of all point-source inputs, and derivation of upstream boundary water-quality inputs from a previously developed UKL TMDL model.
This review examined the details of the models, including model algorithms, parameter values, and boundary conditions; the review did not assess the draft Klamath River TMDL or the TMDL allocations. Attention to the details of a model is one of the best ways to identify potential problems, correct them if possible, and begin to assess the magnitude of potential model errors and uncertainty. Model users need to determine the level of acceptable uncertainty associated with their objectives, identify all sources of potential uncertainty (model uncertainty, data uncertainty, etc.), and assess their approach and results accordingly. In the draft Klamath River TMDL, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality identified the upstream boundary conditions as the largest source of uncertainty for both the current and natural conditions scenarios, not the model algorithms or choice of model parameters. We agree that the upstream boundary conditions are one of the largest, if not the largest, source of model uncertainty; therefore, the derivation of upstream boundary conditions may be more important to the TMDL than some other model-related issues identified in this review.
The revised models contain a number of changes, some of which were done to solve small problems and are largely inconsequential to model results, but others of which are important and affect model predictions of instream concentrations. A consistent version of the model is now applied to all scenarios, and an error in the source code was corrected that had inadvertently discarded 20 percent of the incoming solar radiation in the original model. The baseline light-extinction coefficient for water was decreased and set to a consistent and defensible value across all models of reservoir reaches. Inconsistencies among the values of certain parameters in the original models, such as the ammonia nitrification rate and the decomposition rates of organic matter, have been eliminated, although the reasoning behind the final selections was not documented. The dependence of the rate of sediment oxygen demand (SOD) on temperature was modified such that the SOD rate was substantially decreased at temperatures less than 20°C, causing the model to predict higher dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations in spring, autumn, and winter. Although that change to the temperature dependence function was done to make the function more similar to the model’s default, this change was not accompanied by any documentation of recalibration or sensitivity exercises. The maximum SOD rate for the 2002 current conditions scenario was decreased from 3.0 grams per square meter per day (g/m2/d) in the original model to 2.0 g/m2/d in the revised model, a considerable adjustment that appears to have been needed to offset effects of a change to another variable (O2LIM) that would have resulted in a substantial increase in the effective SOD rate for 2002. A 50-percent decrease in the SOD rate over a 2-year period, however, is not likely to be mirrored by field measurements, so this change may be compensating for some process that is not represented correctly in the DO budget for the current conditions scenarios.
Several important changes were made to the natural conditions scenario. First, the elevation of the Keno reef was corrected; the elevation specified in the original model was 1 foot too high, which affected the volume of the pooled reach and the travel time through it. The most important changes to this scenario were to the upstream boundary inputs of organic matter and algae, which affect incoming fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorus. Algal biomass inputs were increased by approximately 60 percent during summer because of a change in the way those inputs were derived from results of the UKL TMDL model. Non-algal organic matter inputs were decreased, particularly in summer to correct a problem attributed to double-counting of phosphorus in the original inputs. The distribution of non-algal organic matter was changed from 20 percent dissolved in the original model to 90 percent dissolved in the revised model in response to review comments and published data. The overall sum of algal biomass and non-living organic matter was decreased, which resulted in lower inputs of total phosphorus and nitrogen. Total phosphorus inputs were less than 0.03 mg/L, and although the inputs were derived from selected results of the UKL TMDL model, these concentrations seem too low to be representative of a historically eutrophic system surrounded by extensive wetlands, peat soils, and a groundwater system high in phosphorus. The draft TMDL states that the upstream boundary conditions are the greatest source of uncertainty, greater than any uncertainty associated with the models. Efforts to improve existing models of algal growth and nutrient cycling in UKL, therefore, would provide a substantial benefit to downstream modeling efforts on the Klamath River.
Although many improvements were made in revising the Klamath River TMDL models, some issues and uncertainties remain. Several errors in the model source code remain, but do not affect model results for this application as long as certain options and rates are not changed; future users of these models should be aware of these issues. Although the distribution of dissolved and particulate organic matter was modified for the natural conditions scenario, that distribution was not changed for the current conditions scenarios. Recent data on that distribution and the likely rates of organic matter decomposition could be used to improve these models in the future. Nitrate predictions at Keno (Highway 66) still are too high for the current conditions scenarios; future efforts should re-evaluate the model’s denitrification rates and the release rate of ammonia from anoxic sediments. Possibly the most important of the remaining issues are tied to the two-state (healthy/unhealthy) hypothesis for the algae population that was coded into the model. Some of the rates and conversion functions could be refined to make them more acceptable; currently, the published literature does not support the concept of moderately low dissolved-oxygen concentrations as a stressor of algae in the ranges used by the model. More research is needed before these algorithms can be truly tested. The algorithms currently appear to help the model fit the patterns in the available data, and that is useful and perhaps sufficient for some purposes, but those algorithms are not truly predictive or reliable for certain purposes until they can be tested through well-designed experiments and research.
In summary, the TMDL models used to simulate Link and Klamath Rivers from Link River Dam to Keno Dam were revised to fix several problems and address various issues. The resulting models are an improvement over those that were reviewed by USGS in 2009, and represent a useful advance in the simulation of a complex system that is difficult to model. However, several issues remain that cause increased uncertainty in the model results. Depending on the objectives of the modeling, now or in the future, these remaining issues could be more or less important. For the Klamath River TMDL, the upstream boundary conditions may be a larger source of uncertainty than the concerns with model algorithms and model parameters identified in this review. Efforts to re-evaluate the available models of algal growth and nutrient cycling in UKL would be highly beneficial to downstream modeling efforts in the Klamath River.