Water availability became a concern in Rhode Island during a drought in 1999, and an investigation was needed to assess demands on the hydrologic system from withdrawals during periods of little to no precipitation. The low water levels during the drought prompted the U.S. Geological Survey and the Rhode Island Water Resources Board to begin a series of studies on water use and availability in each drainage area in Rhode Island for 1995-99. The study area for this report, which includes the Pawtuxet River Basin in central Rhode Island (231.6 square miles) and the Quinebaug River Basin in western Rhode Island (60.97 square miles), was delineated as the surface-water drainage areas of these basins.
During the study period from 1995 through 1999, two major water suppliers withdrew an average of 71.86 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) from the Pawtuxet River Basin; of this amount, about 35.98 Mgal/d of potable water were exported to other basins in Rhode Island. The estimated water withdrawals from minor water suppliers were 0.026 Mgal/d in the Pawtuxet River Basin and 0.003 Mgal/d in the Quinebaug River Basin. Total self-supply withdrawals were 2.173 Mgal/d in the Pawtuxet River Basin and 0.360 Mgal/d in the Quinebaug River Basin, which has no public water supply. Total water use averaged 18.07 Mgal/d in the Pawtuxet River Basin and 0.363 Mgal/d in the Quinebaug River Basin. Total return flow in the Pawtuxet River Basin was 30.64 Mgal/d, which included about 12.28 Mgal/d that were imported from other basins in Rhode Island. Total return flow was 0.283 Mgal/d in the Quinebaug River Basin.
During times of little to no recharge in the form of precipitation, the surface- and ground-water flows are from storage primarily in the stratified sand and gravel deposits; water also flows through the till deposits, but at a slower rate. The ground water discharging to the streams during times of little to no recharge from precipitation is referred to as base flow. The PART program, a computerized hydrograph-separation application, was used to analyze the data collected at two selected index stream-gaging stations to determine water availability on the basis of the 75th, 50th, and 25th percentiles of the total base flow; the base flow for the 7-day, 10-year low-flow scenario; and the base flow for the Aquatic Base Flow scenario for both stations. The index stream-gaging stations used in the analysis were the Branch River at Forestdale, Rhode Island (period of record 1957-1999) and the Nooseneck River at Nooseneck, Rhode Island (period of record 1964-1980). A regression equation was used to estimate unknown base-flow contributions from sand and gravel deposits at the two stations. The base-flow contributions from sand and gravel deposits and till deposits at the index stations were computed for June, July, August, and September within the periods of record, and divided by the area of each type of surficial deposit at each index station. These months were selected because they define a period when there is usually an increased demand for water and little to no precipitation. The base flows at the stream-gaging station Branch River at Forestdale, Rhode Island were lowest in August at the 75th, 50th, and 25th percentiles (29.67, 21.48, and 13.30 Mgal/d, respectively). The base flows at the stream-gaging station Nooseneck River at Nooseneck, Rhode Island were lowest in September at the 75th percentile (3.551 Mgal/d) and lowest in August at the 50th and 25th percentiles (2.554 and 1.811 Mgal/d).
The base flows per unit area for the index stations were multiplied by the areas of sand and gravel and till in the study-area subbasins to determine the amount of available water for each scenario. The water availability in the Pawtuxet River Basin at the 50th percentile ranged from 126.5 Mgal/d in August to 204.7 Mgal/d in June, and the total gross water availability for the 7-day, 10-year low-flow scenario at the 50th percentile ranged from 112.2 Mgal/d in August to 190.4 Mgal/d in June. The Scituate Reservoir safe yield was 83 Mgal/d in all scenarios. Water availability in the Quinebaug River Basin ranged from 13.94 Mgal/d in August to 30.53 Mgal/d in June at the 50th percentile. The total gross water availability for the 7-day, 10-year low-flow scenario at the 50th percentile ranged from 14.26 Mgal/d in August to 42.69 Mgal/d in June.
Because water withdrawals and use are greater during the summer than other times of the year, water availability in June, July, August, and September was compared to water withdrawals in the basin and subbasins. The ratios of water withdrawn to water available were calculated for the 75th, 50th, and 25th percentiles for the subbasins; the closer the ratio is to 1, the closer the withdrawals are to the estimated water available, and the less net water is available. Withdrawals in July were higher than in the other summer months in both basins. In the Pawtuxet River Basin, the ratios were close to 1 in July for the estimated gross yield (from sand and gravel and from till and from the Scituate Reservoir safe yield), 7-day, 10-year low-flow scenario, and Aquatic Base Flow scenario at the 75th percentile and inAugust for all three scenarios atthe 50th and 25th percentiles. In the Quinebaug River Basin, the ratios were close to 1 in August for the estimated gross yield; 7-day, 10-year low-flow scenario; and Aquatic Base Flow scenario.
A long-term water budget was calculated for 1941 through 1999 to identify and assess the basin and subbasin inflow and outflows for the Pawtuxet and Quinebaug River Basins. The water withdrawals and return flows used in the budget were from 1995 through 1999. Inflow was assumed to be equal to outflow; total inflows and outflows were 574.9 Mgal/d in the Pawtuxet River Basin and 148.4 Mgal/d in the Quinebaug River Basin. Precipitation and return flow were 95 and 5 percent of the estimated inflows to the Pawtuxet River Basin, respectively. Precipitation was 100 percent of the estimated inflow to the Quinebaug River Basin; return flow was less than 1 percent of the inflow. Evapotranspiration, streamflow, and water withdrawals were 46, 41, and 13 percent, respectively, of the estimated outflows in the Pawtuxet River Basin. Evapotranspiration and streamflow were 49 and 51 percent, respectively, of the estimated outflows in the Quinebaug River Basin. Water withdrawals were less than 1 percent of outflows in the Quinebaug River Basin.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Estimated Water Use and Availability in the Pawtuxet and Quinebaug River Basins, Rhode Island, 1995-99