Equations for estimating synthetic unit-hydrograph parameter values for small watersheds in Lake County, Illinois

Open-File Report 96-474
By:  and 



Design hydrographs computed from design storms, simple models of abstractions (interception, depression storage, and infiltration), and synthetic unit hydrographs provide vital information for stormwater, flood-plain, and water-resources management throughout the United States. Rainfall and runoff data for small watersheds in Lake County collected between 1990 and 1995 were studied to develop equations for estimation of synthetic unit-hydrograph parameters on the basis of watershed and storm characteristics. The synthetic unit-hydrograph parameters of interest were the time of concentration (TC) and watershed-storage coefficient (R) for the Clark unit-hydrograph method, the unit-graph lag (UL) for the Soil Conservation Service (now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service) dimensionless unit hydrograph, and the hydrograph-time lag (TL) for the linear-reservoir method for unit-hydrograph estimation. Data from 66 storms with effective-precipitation depths greater than 0.4 inches on 9 small watersheds (areas between 0.06 and 37 square miles (mi2)) were utilized to develop the estimation equations, and data from 11 storms on 8 of these watersheds were utilized to verify (test) the estimation equations. The synthetic unit-hydrograph parameters were determined by calibration using the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Flood Hydrograph Package HEC-1 (TC, R, and UL) or by manual analysis of the rainfall and run-off data (TL). The relation between synthetic unit-hydrograph parameters, and watershed and storm characteristics was determined by multiple linear regression of the logarithms of the parameters and characteristics. Separate sets of equations were developed with watershed area and main channel length as the starting parameters. Percentage of impervious cover, main channel slope, and depth of effective precipitation also were identified as important characteristics for estimation of synthetic unit-hydrograph parameters. The estimation equations utilizing area had multiple correlation coefficients of 0.873, 0.961, 0.968, and 0.963 for TC, R, UL, and TL, respectively, and the estimation equations utilizing main channel length had multiple correlation coefficients of 0.845, 0.957, 0.961, and 0.963 for TC, R, UL, and TL, respectively. Simulation of the measured hydrographs for the verification storms utilizing TC and R obtained from the estimation equations yielded good results without calibration. The peak discharge for 8 of the 11 storms was estimated within 25 percent and the time-to-peak discharge for 10 of the 11 storms was estimated within 20 percent. Thus, application of the estimation equations to determine synthetic unit-hydrograph parameters for design-storm simulation may result in reliable design hydrographs; as long as the physical characteristics of the watersheds under consideration are within the range of those for the watersheds in this study (area: 0.06-37 mi2, main channel length: 0.33-16.6 miles, main channel slope: 3.13-55.3 feet per mile, and percentage of impervious cover: 7.32-40.6 percent). The estimation equations are most reliable when applied to watersheds with areas less than 25 mi2.

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Equations for estimating synthetic unit-hydrograph parameter values for small watersheds in Lake County, Illinois
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 96-474
DOI 10.3133/ofr96474
Edition -
Year Published 1997
Language ENGLISH
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey ; U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Information Services [distributor],
Description v, 49 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.
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