Sources of suspended-sediment loads in the lower Nueces River watershed, downstream from Lake Corpus Christi to the Nueces Estuary, south Texas, 1958–2010
Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5059
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District; City of Corpus Christi; Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority; San Antonio River Authority; and San Antonio Water System
- Darwin J. Ockerman, Franklin T. Heitmuller, and Loren L. Wehmeyer
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District; City of Corpus Christi; Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority; San Antonio River Authority; and San Antonio Water System, developed, calibrated, and tested a Hydrological Simulation Program-FORTRAN (HSPF) watershed model to simulate streamflow and suspended-sediment concentrations and loads during 1958-2010 in the lower Nueces River watershed, downstream from Lake Corpus Christi to the Nueces Estuary in south Texas. Data available to simulate suspended-sediment concentrations and loads consisted of historical sediment data collected during 1942-82 in the study area and suspended-sediment concentration data collected periodically by the USGS during 2006-7 and 2010 at three USGS streamflow-gaging stations (08211000 Nueces River near Mathis, Tex. [the Mathis gage], 08211200 Nueces River at Bluntzer, Tex. [the Bluntzer gage], and 08211500 Nueces River at Calallen, Tex. [the Calallen gage]), and at one ungaged location on a Nueces River tributary (USGS station 08211050 Bayou Creek at Farm Road 666 near Mathis, Tex.). The Mathis gage is downstream from Wesley E. Seale Dam, which was completed in 1958 to impound Lake Corpus Christi. Suspended-sediment data collected before and after completion of Wesley E. Seale Dam provide insights to the effects of the dam and reservoir on suspended-sediment loads transported by the lower Nueces River downstream from the dam to the Nueces Estuary. Annual suspended-sediment loads at the Nueces River near the Mathis, Tex., gage were considerably lower for a given annual mean discharge after the dam was completed than before the dam was completed.
Most of the suspended sediment transported by the Nueces River downstream from Wesley E. Seale Dam occurred during high-flow releases from the dam or during floods. During October 1964-September 1971, about 536,000 tons of suspended sediment were transported by the Nueces River past the Mathis gage. Of this amount, about 473,000 tons, or about 88 percent, were transported by large runoff events (mean streamflow exceeding 1,000 cubic feet per second).
To develop the watershed model to simulate suspended-sediment concentrations and loads in the lower Nueces River watershed during 1958-2010, streamflow simulations were calibrated and tested with available data for 2001-10 from the Bluntzer and Calallen gages. Streamflow data for the Nueces River obtained from the Mathis gage were used as input to the model at the upstream boundary of the model. Simulated streamflow volumes for the Bluntzer and Calallen gages showed good agreement with measured streamflow volumes. For 2001-10, simulated streamflow at the Calallen gage was within 3 percent of measured streamflow.
The HSPF model was calibrated to simulate suspended sediment using suspended-sediment data collected at the Mathis, Bluntzer, and Calallen gages during 2006-7. Model simulated suspended-sediment loads at the Calallen gage were within 5 percent of loads that were estimated, by regression, from suspended-sediment sample analysis and measured streamflow. The calibrated watershed model was used to estimate streamflow and suspended-sediment loads for 1958-2010, including loads transported to the Nueces Estuary. During 1958-2010, on average, an estimated 288 tons per day (tons/d) of suspended sediment were delivered to the lower Nueces River; an estimated 278 tons/d were delivered to the estuary. The annual suspended-sediment load was highly variable, depending on the occurrence of runoff events and high streamflows. During 1958-2010, the annual total sediment loads to the estuary varied from an estimated 3.8 to 2,490 tons/d. On average, 113 tons/d, or about 39 percent of the estimated annual suspended-sediment contribution, originated from cropland in the study watershed. Releases from Lake Corpus Christi delivered an estimated 94 tons/d of suspended sediment or about 33 percent of the 288 tons/d estimated to have been delivered to the lower Nueces River. Erosion of stream-channel bed and banks accounted for 44 tons/d or about 15 percent of the estimated total suspended-sediment load. All other land categories, except cropland, accounted for an estimated 36 tons/d, or about 12 percent of the total. An estimated 10 tons/d of suspended sediment or about 3 percent of the suspended-sediment load delivered to the lower Nueces River were removed by water withdrawals before reaching the Nueces Estuary.
During 2010, additional suspended-sediment data were collected during selected runoff events to provide new data for model testing and to help better understand the sources of suspended-sediment loads. The model was updated and used to estimate and compare sediment yields from each of 64 subwatersheds comprising the lower Nueces River watershed study area for three selected runoff events: November 20-21, 2009, September 7-8, 2010, and September 20-21, 2010. These three runoff events were characterized by heavy rainfall centered near the study area and during which minimal streamflow and suspended-sediment load entered the lower Nueces River upstream from Wesley E. Seale Dam. During all three runoff events, model simulations showed that the greatest sediment yields originated from the subwatersheds, which were largely cropland. In particular, the Bayou Creek subwatersheds were major contributors of suspended-sediment load to the lower Nueces River during the selected runoff events. During the November 2009 runoff event, high suspended-sediment concentrations in the Nueces River water withdrawn for the City of Corpus Christi public-water supply caused problems during the water-treatment process, resulting in failure to meet State water-treatment standards for turbidity in drinking water. Model simulations of the November 2009 runoff event showed that the Bayou Creek subwatersheds were the primary source of suspended-sediment loads during that runoff event.
Additional publication details
- Publication type:
- Publication Subtype:
- USGS Numbered Series
- Sources of suspended-sediment loads in the lower Nueces River watershed, downstream from Lake Corpus Christi to the Nueces Estuary, south Texas, 1958–2010
- Series title:
- Scientific Investigations Report
- Series number:
- Year Published:
- U.S. Geological Survey
- Publisher location:
- Reston, VA
- Contributing office(s):
- Texas Water Science Center
- ix, 57 p.
- United States
- Other Geospatial:
- Lower Nueces River Watershed
- Online Only (Y/N):
- Additional Online Files (Y/N):