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Simulation of streamflow and water quality in the Christina River subbasin and overview of simulations in other subbasins of the Christina River Basin, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware, 1994-98

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4193

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:
ORCID iD and

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Abstract

The Christina River Basin drains 565 square miles (mi2) in Pennsylvania and Delaware and includes the major subbasins of Brandywine Creek, Red Clay Creek, White Clay Creek, and Christina River. The Christina River subbasin (exclusive of the Brandywine, Red Clay, and White Clay Creek subbasins) drains an area of 76 mi2. Streams in the Christina River Basin are used for recreation, drinking water supply, and support of 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 water-quality management strategy included a modeling component to evaluate the effects of point- and nonpoint-source contributions of nutrients and suspended sediment on stream water 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 two sites in the Christina River subbasin and nine sites elsewhere in the Christina River Basin.

The HSPF model for the Christina River 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 3.8 to 21.9 mi2. 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 Christina River subbasin are residential, urban, forested, agricultural, and open.

The hydrologic component of the model was run at an hourly time step and calibrated using streamflow data from two 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) meteorologic station and hourly data from one NOAA meteorologic station were used for model input. The difference between observed and simulated streamflow volume ranged from -2.3 to 5.3 percent for a 10-month portion of the calibration period at the two calibration sites. Annual differences between observed and simulated streamflow generally were greater than the overall error for the 4-year period. For example, at Christina River at Coochs Bridge, near the bottom of the free-flowing part of the subbasin (drainage area of 21 mi2), annual differences between observed and simulated streamflow ranged from -6.9 to 6.5 percent and the overall error for the 4-year period was -1.1 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 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 nonpoint-source monitoring data collected at two USGS streamflow-measurement stations and other water-quality monitoring data. The period of record for water-quality monitoring was variable at the stations, with a start date ranging from October 1994 to January 1998 and an end date of 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 simulaion. Comparison of observed to simulated loads for up to six storms in 1998 at the two nonpoint-source monitoring sites (Little Mill Creek near Newport and Christina River at Coochs Bridge, Del.) 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; much larger errors are 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 subbasin.

Users of the Christina River subbasin HSPF model and HSPF models for other subbasins in the Christina River Basin should be aware of model limitations and consider the following if the model is used for predictive purposes: streamflow-duration curves suggest the model simulates streamflow reasonably well when measured 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 8-year period ending in 2001 at Christina River at Coochs Bridge, Del., and include all but the extreme high-flow and low-flow events; and calibration for water quality was based on limited 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 Christina River subbasin and overview of simulations in other subbasins of the Christina River Basin, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware, 1994-98: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003–4193, 144 p., https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri034193.

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 
  • Overview of Christina River Basin models
  • Summary and conclusions 
  • References cited
  • Appendixes 

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Simulation of streamflow and water quality in the Christina River subbasin and overview of simulations in other subbasins of the Christina River Basin, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware, 1994-98
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
2003-4193
Year Published:
2003
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
Description:
xii, 144 p
Online Only (Y/N):
Y