Estimating natural monthly streamflows in California and the likelihood of anthropogenic modification

Open-File Report 2016-1189
Prepared in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited
By: , and 

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Abstract

Because natural patterns of streamflow are a fundamental property of the health of streams, there is a critical need to quantify the degree to which human activities have modified natural streamflows. A requirement for assessing streamflow modification in a given stream is a reliable estimate of flows expected in the absence of human influences. Although there are many techniques to predict streamflows in specific river basins, there is a lack of approaches for making predictions of natural conditions across large regions and over many decades. In this study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, the primary objective was to develop empirical models that predict natural (that is, unaffected by land use or water management) monthly streamflows from 1950 to 2012 for all stream segments in California. Models were developed using measured streamflow data from the existing network of streams where daily flow monitoring occurs, but where the drainage basins have minimal human influences. Widely available data on monthly weather conditions and the physical attributes of river basins were used as predictor variables. Performance of regional-scale models was comparable to that of published mechanistic models for specific river basins, indicating the models can be reliably used to estimate natural monthly flows in most California streams. A second objective was to develop a model that predicts the likelihood that streams experience modified hydrology. New models were developed to predict modified streamflows at 558 streamflow monitoring sites in California where human activities affect the hydrology, using basin-scale geospatial indicators of land use and water management. Performance of these models was less reliable than that for the natural-flow models, but results indicate the models could be used to provide a simple screening tool for identifying, across the State of California, which streams may be experiencing anthropogenic flow modification.

Suggested Citation

Carlisle, D.M., Wolock, D.M., Howard, J.K., Grantham, T.E., Fesenmyer, Kurt, and Wieczorek, Michael, 2016, Estimating natural monthly streamflows in California and the likelihood of anthropogenic modification: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1189, 27 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161189.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Summary
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Supplemental Information

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Estimating natural monthly streamflows in California and the likelihood of anthropogenic modification
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2016-1189
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161189
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) National Water Quality Assessment Program
Description vi, 27 p.
Country United States
State California
Online Only (Y/N) Y