Streamflow in many parts of the Blackstone River Basin in south-central Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island is altered by water-supply withdrawals, wastewater-return flows, and land-use change associated with a growing population. Simulations from a previously developed and calibrated Hydrological Simulation Program?FORTRAN (HSPF) precipitation-runoff model for the basin were used to evaluate the effects of water withdrawals, wastewater-return flows, and land-use change on streamflow. Most of the simulations were done for recent (1996?2001) conditions and potential buildout conditions in the future when all available land is developed to provide a long-range assessment of the effects of possible future human activities on water resources in the basin.
The effects of land-use change were evaluated by comparing the results of long-term (1960?2004) simulations with (1) undeveloped land use, (2) 1995?1999 land use, and (3) potential buildout land use at selected sites across the basin. Flow-duration curves for these land-use scenarios were similar, indicating that land-use change, as represented in the HSPF model, had little effect on flow in the major tributary streams and rivers in the basin. However, land-use change?particularly increased effective impervious area?could potentially have greater effects on the hydrology, water quality, and aquatic habitat of the smaller streams in the basin.
The effects of water withdrawals and wastewater-return flows were evaluated by comparing the results of long-term simulations with (1) no withdrawals and return flows, (2) actual (measured) 1996?2001 withdrawals and wastewater-return flows, and (3) potential withdrawals and wastewater-return flows at buildout. Overall, the results indicated that water use had a much larger effect on streamflow than did land use, and that the location and magnitude of wastewater-return flows were important for lessening the effects of withdrawals on streamflow in the Blackstone River Basin. Ratios of long-term (1960?2004) simulated flows with 1996?2001 water use (representing the net effect of withdrawals and wastewater-return flows) to long-term simulated flows with no water use indicated that, for many reaches, 1996?2001 water use did not deplete flows at the 90-percent flow duration substantially compared to flows unaffected by water use. Flows generally were more severely depleted in the reaches that include surface-water supplies for the larger cities in the basin (Kettle and Tatnuck Brooks, Worcester, Mass. water supply; Quinsigamond River, Shrewsbury, Mass. water supply; Crookfall Brook, Woonsocket, R.I. water supply; and Abbott Run, Pawtucket, R.I. water supply). These reaches did not have substantial wastewater-return flows that could offset the effects of the withdrawals. In contrast, wastewater-return flows from the Upper Blackstone Wastewater Treatment Facility in Millbury, Mass. increased flows at the 90-percent flow duration in the main stem of the Blackstone River compared to no-water-use conditions. Under the assumptions used to develop the buildout scenario, nearly all of the new water withdrawals were returned to the Blackstone River Basin at municipal wastewater-treatment plants or on-site septic systems. Consequently, buildout generally had small effects on simulated low flows in the Blackstone River and most of the major tributary streams compared to flows with 1996?2001 water use.
To evaluate the effects of water use on flows in the rivers and major tributary streams in the Rhode Island part of the basin in greater detail, the magnitudes of water withdrawals and wastewater-return flows in relation to simulated streamflow were calculated as unique ratios for individual HSPF subbasins, total contributing areas to HSPF subbasins, and total contributing areas to the major tributary streams. For recent conditions (1996?2001 withdrawals and 1995?1999 land use), ratios of average summer (June through September) withdrawals to the l