Simulation of Streamflow and Water Quality by a Precipitation-Runoff Model of the Tonawanda Creek Basin in Western New York

Science Center Objects

Problem Nutrients and sediment are generated by and removed from agricultural and urban areas, transported in streams, and ultimately delivered to the Great Lakes. The nutrients stimulate excessive algal growth and potentially cause noxious blooms and hypoxia. Sediment increases turbidity near stream mouths and, when deposited, can smother bottom-dwelling animals, drive fish from affected a...

 
Problem
 
Nutrients and sediment are generated by and removed from agricultural and urban areas, transported in streams, and ultimately delivered to the Great Lakes. The nutrients stimulate excessive algal growth and potentially cause noxious blooms and hypoxia. Sediment increases turbidity near stream mouths and, when deposited, can smother bottom-dwelling animals, drive fish from affected areas, and decrease water depth in navigation channels.  An understanding of the hydrologic and water-quality processes that generate these loads will assist water-resources managers in making informed decisions regarding prevention or mitigation of these problems. A precipitation-runoff watershed model is a tool, which can be used to meet this need. By identifying subbasins that generate disproportionately large loads of sediment or nutrients, a watershed model can enable assessments of land-use changes that can aggravate water-quality problems and best-management practices (BMPs) that can be implemented to mitigate them. A watershed model with predicted meteorological data can also be used to assess probable future changes in the magnitude and frequency of peak and low flows and in sediment and nutrient loads. Tonawanda Creek, a tributary to Niagara River just north of Lake Erie at Buffalo,N.Y., has a history of water-related problems, including flooding, erosion and sedimentation, agricultural and urban nonpoint sources, concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) point sources, residential  septic-system leakages and waste-water treatment plant  (WWTP) discharges, habitat degradation, and thermal pollution. A precipitation-runoff model of Tonawanda Creek Basin can address many of these issues.
 
Objectives
 
To develop a  precipitation-runoff model of Tonawanda Creek Basin using the computer program Hydrological Simulation Program—FORTRAN (HSPF) to simulate flows, water temperature, and sediment and total phosphorus concentrations throughout the basin. The model will be calibrated to recorded flows at six existing or discontinued U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream gages and to available water-quality data from several sources for the period from October 1990 to September 2011. The model will be used to identify “hot spots” or subbasins that contribute disproportionately large loads of sediment or phosphorus to their receiving streams. The model could also be used to assess land-use changes, the effects of BMPs, flood-control strategies, and probable climate-changes, but these tasks are not planned as part of the current project.
 
Benefits
 
Tonawanda Creek has many documented water-related problems. County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Tonawanda Seneca Indian Nation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are interested in using the calibrated model for different purposes.The proposed watershed model would provide a tool that 
water-resources managers could use to identify general sources of constituent loads and enable informed and focused efforts to mitigate loads at their source. The information gained during this study will also meet several USGS goals, including:
 
  • advancing knowledge of regional hydrologic systems and processes;
  • providing water-resource information that will be used by multiple parties to address issues related to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and to assist in the development of future water-resource management plans, and;
  • contributing to the national data base that will be used to advance the understanding of regional and temporal variations in hydrologic systems.
Approach  
 
The computer model, Hydrologic Simulation Program – FORTRAN (HSPF), will be used to simulate flows and chemical loads in the Tonawanda Creek Basin from October 1990 through September 2011. Hydrologic, water-quality, and meteorological data will be compiled for this period. The hydrologic components of the model will be calibrated to measured flows from six USGS streamflow-monitoring sites. Estimated flows and phosphorus loads from  waste-water treatment plants in the basin will be input to the model. The water-quality components of the model will be calibrated to measured concentrations of suspended sediment and total phosphorus from sites in the basin that have been monitored by County, State, or Federal agencies.

Project
Location by County

Onondaga County, NY