Development of a Precipitation-Runoff Model to Simulate Unregulated Streamflow in the Salmon Creek Basin, Okanogan County, Washington

Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5274




Surface water has been diverted from the Salmon Creek Basin for irrigation purposes since the early 1900s, when the Bureau of Reclamation built the Okanogan Project. Spring snowmelt runoff is stored in two reservoirs, Conconully Reservoir and Salmon Lake Reservoir, and gradually released during the growing season. As a result of the out-of-basin streamflow diversions, the lower 4.3 miles of Salmon Creek typically has been a dry creek bed for almost 100 years, except during the spring snowmelt season during years of high runoff. To continue meeting the water needs of irrigators but also leave water in lower Salmon Creek for fish passage and to help restore the natural ecosystem, changes are being considered in how the Okanogan Project is operated. This report documents development of a precipitation-runoff model for the Salmon Creek Basin that can be used to simulate daily unregulated streamflows. The precipitation-runoff model is a component of a Decision Support System (DSS) that includes a water-operations model the Bureau of Reclamation plans to develop to study the water resources of the Salmon Creek Basin. The DSS will be similar to the DSS that the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey developed previously for the Yakima River Basin in central southern Washington. The precipitation-runoff model was calibrated for water years 1950-89 and tested for water years 1990-96. The model was used to simulate daily streamflows that were aggregated on a monthly basis and calibrated against historical monthly streamflows for Salmon Creek at Conconully Dam. Additional calibration data were provided by the snowpack water-equivalent record for a SNOTEL station in the basin. Model input time series of daily precipitation and minimum and maximum air temperatures were based on data from climate stations in the study area. Historical records of unregulated streamflow for Salmon Creek at Conconully Dam do not exist for water years 1950-96. Instead, estimates of historical monthly mean unregulated streamflow based on reservoir outflows and storage changes were used as a surrogate for the missing data and to calibrate and test the model. The estimated unregulated streamflows were corrected for evaporative losses from Conconully Reservoir (about 1 ft3/s) and ground-water losses from the basin (about 2 ft3/s). The total of the corrections was about 9 percent of the mean uncorrected streamflow of 32.2 ft3/s (23,300 acre-ft/yr) for water years 1949-96. For the calibration period, the basinwide mean annual evapotranspiration was simulated to be 19.1 inches, or about 83 percent of the mean annual precipitation of 23.1 inches. Model calibration and testing indicated that the daily streamflows simulated using the precipitation-runoff model should be used only to analyze historical and forecasted annual mean and April-July mean streamflows for Salmon Creek at Conconully Dam. Because of the paucity of model input data and uncertainty in the estimated unregulated streamflows, the model is not adequately calibrated and tested to estimate monthly mean streamflows for individual months, such as during low-flow periods, or for shorter periods such as during peak flows. No data were available to test the accuracy of simulated streamflows for lower Salmon Creek. As a result, simulated streamflows for lower Salmon Creek should be used with caution. For the calibration period (water years 1950-89), both the simulated mean annual streamflow and the simulated mean April-July streamflow compared well with the estimated uncorrected unregulated streamflow (UUS) and corrected unregulated streamflow (CUS). The simulated mean annual streamflow exceeded UUS by 5.9 percent and was less than CUS by 2.7 percent. Similarly, the simulated mean April-July streamflow exceeded UUS by 1.8 percent and was less than CUS by 3.1 percent. However, streamflow was significantly undersimulated during the low-flow, baseflow-dominated months of November through F

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USGS Numbered Series
Development of a Precipitation-Runoff Model to Simulate Unregulated Streamflow in the Salmon Creek Basin, Okanogan County, Washington
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Scientific Investigations Report
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Washington Water Science Center
vi, 36 p.; 16 figs.; 6 tables