Simulation of streamflow and water quality in the Brandywine Creek subbasin of the Christina River basin, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1994-98

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4279
Prepared in cooperation with the Delaware River Basin Commission, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
By:  and 



The Christina River Basin drains 565 mi2 (square miles) in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Water from the basin is used for recreation, drinking-water supply, and to support aquatic life. The Christina River Basin includes the major subbasins of Brandywine Creek, Red Clay Creek, White Clay Creek, and Christina River. The Brandywine Creek is the largest of the subbasins and drains an area of 327 mi2. Water quality in some parts of the Christina River Basin is impaired and does not support designated uses of the streams. A multi-agency water-quality management strategy included a modeling component to evaluate the effects of point and nonpoint-source contributions of nutrients and suspended sediment on streamwater quality. To assist in nonpoint-source evaluation, four independent models, one for each of the four main subbasins of the Christina River Basin, were developed and calibrated using the model code Hydrological Simulation Program—Fortran (HSPF). Water-quality data for model calibration were collected in each of the four main subbasins and in small subbasins predominantly covered by one land use following a nonpoint-source monitoring plan. Under this plan, stormflow and base-flow samples were collected during 1998 at six sites in the Brandywine Creek subbasin and five sites in the other subbasins.

The HSPF model for the Brandywine Creek Basin simulates streamflow, suspended sediment, and the nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus. In addition, the model simulates water temperature, dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, and plankton as secondary objectives needed to support the sediment and nutrient simulations. For the model, the basin was subdivided into 35 reaches draining areas that ranged from 0.6 to 18 mi2. Three of the reaches contain regulated reservoir. Eleven different pervious land uses and two impervious land uses were selected for simulation. Land-use areas were determined from 1995 land-use data. The predominant land uses in the basin are forested, agricultural, residential, and urban. The hydrologic component of the model was run at an hourly time step and calibrated using streamflow data for eight U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream-flow-measurement stations for the period of January 1, 1994, through October 29, 1998. Daily precipitation data for three National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gages and hourly data for one NOAA gage were used for model input. The difference between observed and simulated streamflow volume ranged from -2.7 to 3.9 percent for the nearly 5-year period at the eight calibration sites. Annual differences between observed and simulated streamflow generally were greater than the overall error. For example, at a site near the bottom of the basin (drainage area of 237 mi2), annual differences between observed and simulated streamflow ranged from -14.0 to 18.8 percent and the overall error for the 5-year period was 1.0 percent. Calibration errors for 36 storm periods at the eight calibration sites for total volume, low-flow-recession rate, 50-percent lowest flows, 10-percent highest flows, and storm peaks were within the recommended criteria of 20 percent or less. Much of the error in simulating storm events on an hourly time step can be attributed to uncertainty in the rainfall data.

The water-quality component of the model was calibrated using monitoring data collected at six USGS streamflow-measurement stations with variable water quality monitoring periods ending October 1998. Because of availability, monitoring data for suspended solids concentrations were used as surrogates for suspended-sediment concentrations, although suspended-solids data may underestimate suspended sediment and affect apparent accuracy of the suspended-sediment simulation. Comparison of observed to simulated loads for two to six individual storms in 1998 at each of the six monitoring sites indicate that simulation error is commonly as large as an order of magnitude for suspended sediment and nutrients. The simulation error tends to be smaller for dissolved nutrients than for particulate nutrients. Errors of 40 percent or less for monthly or annual values indicate a fair to good water-quality calibration according to recommended criteria, with much larger errors possible for individual events. Assessment of the water-quality calibration under stormflow conditions is limited by the relatively small amount of available water-quality data in the basin. Duration curves for simulated and reported sediment concentration at Brandywine Creek at Wilmington, Del., are similar, indicating model performance is better when evaluated over longer periods than when evaluated on individual storm events.

Suggested Citation

Senior, L.A., Koerkle, and E.H., 2003, Simulation of streamflow and water quality in the Brandywine Creek subbasin of the Christina River basin, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1994-98: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002–4271, 207 p.,

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Description of study area
  • Description of model 
  • Data for model input and calibration
  • Simulation of streamflow
  • Simulation of water quality
  • Model applications
  • Summary and conclusions
  • References cited
  • Appendix 1—Results of laboratory analyses of stormflow and base flow samples
  • Appendix 2—Simulated and observed streamflow and water quality for selected storms at six monitoring sites in the Brandywine Creek Basin
  • Appendix 3—User control input (UCI) file 
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulation of streamflow and water quality in the Brandywine Creek subbasin of the Christina River basin, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1994-98
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2002-4279
DOI 10.3133/wri024279
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Pennsylvania Water Science Center
Description xii, 207 p.
Online Only (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details