Determination of flow losses in the Cape Fear River between B. Everett Jordan Lake and Lillington, North Carolina, 2008-2010

Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5226
Prepared in cooperation with the Triangle J Council of Governments Cape Fear River Flow Study Committee and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources
By:  and 



During 2008-2010, the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a hydrologic investigation in cooperation with the Triangle J Council of Governments Cape Fear River Flow Study Committee and the North Carolina Division of Water Resources to collect hydrologic data in the Cape Fear River between B. Everett Jordan Lake and Lillington in central North Carolina to help determine if suspected flow losses occur in the reach. Flow loss analyses were completed by summing the daily flow releases at Jordan Lake Dam with the daily discharges at Deep River at Moncure and Buckhorn Creek near Corinth, then subtracting these values from the daily discharges at Cape Fear River at Lillington. Examination of long-term records revealed that during 10,227 days of the 1983-2010 water years, 408 days (4.0 percent) had flow loss when conditions were relatively steady with respect to the previous day's records. The flow loss that occurred on these 40 days ranged from 0.49 to 2,150 cubic feet per second with a median flow loss of 37.2 cubic feet per second. The months with the highest number of days with flow losses were June (16. percent), September (16.9 percent), and October (19.4 percent). A series of synoptic discharge measurements made on six separate days in 2009 provided "snapshots" of overall flow conditions along the study reach. The largest water diversion is just downstream from the confluence of the Haw and Deep Rivers, and discharges substantially decrease in the main stem downstream from the intake point. Downstream from Buckhorn Dam, minimal gain or loss between the dam and Raven Rock State Park was noted. Analyses of discharge measurements and ratings for two streamgages-one at Deep River at Moncure and the other at Cape Fear River at Lillington-were completed to address the accuracy of the relation between stage and discharge at these sites. The ratings analyses did not indicate a particular time during the 1982-2011 water years in which a consistent bias occurred in the computations of discharge records that would indicate false flow losses. A total of 34 measured discharges at a streamgage on the Haw River below B. Everett Jordan Lake near Moncure were compared with the reported hourly flow releases from Jordan Lake Dam. Because 28 of 34 measurements were within plus or minus 10 percent of the hourly flow releases reported by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, use of the current discharge computation tables for reporting Jordan Lake Dam flow releases is generally supported. A stage gage was operated on the Cape Fear River at Buckhorn Dam near Corinth to collect continuous stage-only records. Throughout the study period, flow over the dam was observed along its length, and flow loss within the study reach is not attributed to river-level fluctuations at the dam. Water-use information and (or) data were obtained for five industrial facilities, a regional power utility, two municipalities, one small hydropower facility on the Deep River, and one quarry operation also adjacent to the Deep River. The largest water users are the regional power producer, a small hydropower operation, and the two municipalities. The total water-use diversions for these facilities range from almost 25.5 to 38.5 cubic feet per second (39.5 to 59.5 million gallons per day) during the winter and summer periods, respectively. This range is equivalent to 69 to 104 percent of the 37 cubic feet per second median flow loss. The Lockville hydropower station is on the Deep River about 1 mile downstream from the streamgage near Moncure. Run-of-river operations at the facility do not appear to affect flow losses in the study reach. The largest water user in the study area is a regional power producer at a coal-fired power-generation plant located immediately adjacent to the Cape Fear River just downstream from the confluence of the Haw an Deep Rivers. Comparisons of daily water withdrawals, sup-plied by the regional power producer, and discharge records at a streamgage on the diversion canal indicated many days when consumption exceeded the producer's estimates for the cooling towers. Uncertainty surrounding reasonable estimates of consumption remained in effect at the end of the study. Data concerning evaporative losses were compiled using two approaches-an analysis of available pan-evaporation data from a National Weather Service cooperative observer station in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and a compilation of reference open-water evaporation computed by the State Climate Office of North Carolina. The potential flow loss by evaporation from the main stem and the Deep River was estimated to be in the range of 4 to 14 cubic feet per second during May through October, equivalent to 10 to 38 percent of the 37 cubic feet per second median flow loss. Daily water-use diversions and evaporation losses were compared to flow-loss occurrences during the period April 2008 through September 2010. In comparing the surface-water, water-use, and evaporation data compiled for 2008-2010, it is evident that documented water diversions combined with flow losses by open-water evaporation can exceed the net flow gain in the study area and result in flow losses from the reach. Analysis of data from a streamgage downstream from the regional power plant on the diversion canal adjacent to the Cape Fear River provided insight into the occurrence of an apparent flow loss at the streamgage at Lillington. Assessment of the daily discharges and subsequent hydrographs for the canal streamgage indicated at least 24 instances during the study when the flows suddenly changed by magnitudes of 100 to more that 200 cubic feet per second, resulting in a noted time-lag effect on the downstream discharges at the Lillington streamgage, beginning 8 to 16 hours after the sudden flow change. A fiber-optic distributed temperature-sensing survey was conducted on the Cape Fear River at the Raven Rock State Park reach August 12-14, 2009, to determine if the presence of diabase dikes were preferentially directing groundwater discharge. No temperature anomalies of colder water were measured during the survey, which indicated that at the time of the survey that particular reach of the Cape Fear River was a "no-flow" or losing stream. An aerial thermal-infrared survey was conducted on the Haw and Cape Fear Rivers on February 27, 2010, from Jordan Lake Dam to Lillington to qualitatively delineate areas of groundwater discharge on the basis of the contrast between warm groundwater discharge and cold surface-water temperatures. Dis-charge generally was noted as diffuse seepage, but in a few cases springs were detected as inflow at a discrete point of discharge. Two reaches of the Cape Fear River (regional power plant and Bradley Road reaches) were selected for groundwater monitoring with a transect of piezometers installed within the flood plain. Groundwater-level altitudes at these reaches were analyzed for 1 water year (October 1, 2009, to September 30, 2010). Data collected as part of this study represent only a brief period of time and may not represent all conditions and all years; however, the data indicate that, during the dry summer months, the Cape Fear River within the study area is losing an undetermined quantity of water through seepage. Analyses completed during this investigation indicate a study reach with complex flow patterns affected by numerous concurrent factors resulting in flow losses. The causes of flow loss could not be solely attributed to any one factor. Among the factors considered, the occurrences of water diversions and evaporative losses were determined to be sufficient on some days (particularly during the base-flow period) to exceed the net gain in flows between the upstream and downstream ends of the study area. Losses by diversions and evaporation can exceed the median flow loss of 3 cubic feet per second, which indicates that flow loss from the study reach is real. Groundwater data collected during 2009-2010 indicate the possibility of localized flow loss during the summer, particularly in the impounded reach above Buckhorn Dam. However, no indication of unusual patterns was noted that would cause substantial flow loss by groundwater and surface-water interaction at the river bottom.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Determination of flow losses in the Cape Fear River between B. Everett Jordan Lake and Lillington, North Carolina, 2008-2010
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2012-5226
DOI 10.3133/sir20125226
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) North Carolina Water Science Center
Description x, 76 p.
Time Range Start 2008-01-01
Time Range End 2010-12-31
Country United States
State North Carolina
City Lillington
Other Geospatial B. Everett Jordan Lake;Cape Fear River;Shearon Harris Lake
Scale 100000
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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