The six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos have prior and paramount rights to deliveries of water from the Rio Grande for their use. When the pueblos or the Bureau of Indian Affairs Designated Engineer identifies a need for additional flow on the Rio Grande, the Designated Engineer is tasked with deciding the timing and amount of releases of prior and paramount water from storage at El Vado Reservoir to meet the needs of the pueblos. Over the last three decades, numerous models have been developed by Federal, State, and local agencies in New Mexico to simulate, understand, and (or) manage flows in the Middle Rio Grande upstream from Elephant Butte Reservoir. In 2008, the Coalition of Six Middle Rio Grande Basin Pueblos entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a comprehensive survey of these hydrologic models and their capacity to quantify and track various components of flow. The survey of hydrologic models provided in this report will help water-resource managers at the pueblos, as well as the Designated Engineer, make informed water-resource-management decisions that affect the prior and paramount water use. Analysis of 4 publicly available surface-water models and 13 publicly available groundwater models shows that, although elements from many models can be helpful in tracking flow in the Rio Grande, numerous data gaps and modeling needs indicate that accurate, consistent, and timely tracking of flow on the Rio Grande could be improved. Deficient or poorly constrained hydrologic variables are sources of uncertainty in hydrologic models that can be reduced with the acquisition of more refined data. Data gaps need to be filled to allow hydrologic models to be run on a real-time basis and thus ensure predictable water deliveries to meet needs for irrigation, domestic, stock, and other water uses. Timeliness of flow-data reporting is necessary to facilitate real-time model simulation, but even daily data are sometimes difficult to obtain because the data come from multiple sources. Each surface-water model produces results that could be helpful in quantifying the flow of the Rio Grande, specifically by helping to track water as it moves down the channel of the Rio Grande and by improving the understanding of river hydraulics for the specified reaches. The ability of each surface-water model to track flow on the Rio Grande varies according to the purpose for which each model was designed. The purpose of Upper Rio Grande Water Operations Model (URGWOM) - to simulate water storage and delivery operations in the Rio Grande - is more applicable to tracking flow on the Rio Grande than are any of the other surface-water models surveyed. Specifically, the strengths of URGWOM in relation to modeling flow are the details and attention given to the accounting of Rio Grande flow and San Juan-Chama flow at a daily time step. The most significant difficulty in using any of the surveyed surface-water models for the purpose of predicting the need for requested water releases is that none of the surface-water models surveyed consider water accounting on a real-time basis. Groundwater models that provide detailed simulations of shallow groundwater flow in the vicinity of the Rio Grande can provide large-scale estimates of flow between the Rio Grande and shallow aquifers, which can be an important component of the Rio Grande water budget as a whole. The groundwater models surveyed for this report cannot, however, be expected to provide simulations of flow at time scales of less than the simulated time step (1 month to 1 year in most cases). Of those of the currently used groundwater models, the purpose of model 13 - to simulate the shallow riparian groundwater environment - is the most appropriate for examining local-scale surface-water/groundwater interactions. The basin-scale models, however, are also important in understanding the large-scale water balances between the aquifers and the surface water. In the case of the Upper and Middle Rio Grande Valley, models 6, 10, and 12 are the most accurate and current groundwater models available.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Survey of hydrologic models and hydrologic data needs for tracking flow in the Rio Grande, north-central New Mexico, 2010