Simulation of streamflow and water quality in the Red Clay Creek subbasin of the Christina River Basin, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1994-98

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4138
Prepared in cooperation with 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 square miles (mi2) in Pennsylvania and Delaware and includes the major subbasins of Red Clay Creek, White Clay Creek, Brandywine Creek, and Christina River. The Red Clay Creek is the smallest of the subbasins and drains an area of 54 mi2. Streams in the Christina River Basin are used for recreation, drinking-water supply, and to support aquatic life. Water quality in some parts of the Christina River Basin is impaired and does not support designated uses of the stream. A multi-agency, waterquality management strategy included a modeling component to evaluate the effects of point and nonpointsource contributions of nutrients and suspended sediment on stream water quality. To assist in nonpointsource 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 smaller 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 1 site in the Red Clay Creek subbasin and at 10 sites elsewhere in the Christina River Basin.

The HSPF model for the Red Clay Creek subbasin 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 nine reaches draining areas that ranged from 1.7 to 10 mi2. One of the reaches contains a regulated reservoir. Ten 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 Red Clay Creek subbasin are agricultural, forested, residential, and urban.

The hydrologic component of the model was run at an hourly time step and calibrated using streamflow data from three U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) streamflow-measurement stations for the period of October 1, 1994, through October 29, 1998. Daily precipitation data from one National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gage and hourly data from one NOAA gage were used for model input. The difference between observed and simulated stream- flow volume ranged from -0.8 to 2.1 percent for the 4-year period at the three calibration sites. Annual differences between observed and simulated streamflow generally were greater than the overall error for the 4-year period. For example, at a site near Stanton, Del., near the bottom of the basin (drainage area of 50.2 mi2), annual differences between observed and simulated streamflow ranged from -5.8 to 6.0 percent and the overall error for the 4-year period was -0.8 percent. Calibration errors for 36 storm periods at the three calibration sites for total volume, low-flow-recession rate, 50-percent lowest flows, 10-percent highest flows, and storm peaks were 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 nonpoint-source monitoring data collected in 1998 at one USGS streamflowmeasurement station and other water-quality monitoring data collected at three USGS streamflowmeasurement stations. The period of record for waterquality monitoring was variable at the stations, with an end date of October 1998 but the start date ranging from October 1994 to January 1998. Because of availability, monitoring data for suspended-solids concentrations were used as surrogates for suspendedsediment concentrations, although suspended solids may underestimate suspended sediment and affect apparent accuracy of the suspended-sediment simulation. Comparison of observed to simulated loads for five storms in 1998 at the one nonpoint-source monitoring site at Wooddale, Del., indicates that simulation error commonly is as large as an order of magnitude for suspended sediment and nutrients. The simulation error tends to be smaller for dissolved utrients than 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 storm events. Assessment of the accuracy of the water-quality calibration under stormflow conditions is limited by the sparsity of available water-quality data in the basin.

Users of the Red Clay Creek HSPF model should be aware of model limitations and consider the following when predictive scenarios are desired: streamflow-duration curves indicate the model simulates stream-flow reasonably well when evaluated over a broad range of conditions and time, although streamflow and the corresponding water quality for individual storm events may not be well simulated; streamflow-duration curves for the simulation period compare well with duration curves for the 57.5-year period ending in 2001 at Wooddale, Del., and include all but the extreme high-flow and low-flow events; calibration for water quality was based on sparse data, with the result of increasing uncertainty in the water-quality simulation.

Suggested Citation

Senior, L.A., and Koerkle, E.H, 2003, Simulation of streamflow and water quality in the Red Clay Creek subbasin of the Christina River Basin, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1994-98: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003–4138, 119 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
  • References cited 
  • Appendixes 
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulation of streamflow and water quality in the Red Clay Creek subbasin of the Christina River Basin, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1994-98
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2003-4138
DOI 10.3133/wri034138
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Pennsylvania Water Science Center
Description x, 119 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details