Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

A precipitation-runoff model for simulating natural streamflow conditions in the Smith River watershed, Montana, water years 1996-2008

August 8, 2014

This report documents the construction of a precipitation-runoff model for simulating natural streamflow in the Smith River watershed, Montana. This Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System model, constructed in cooperation with the Meagher County Conservation District, can be used to examine the general hydrologic framework of the Smith River watershed, including quantification of precipitation, evapotranspiration, and streamflow; partitioning of streamflow between surface runoff and subsurface flow; and quantifying contributions to streamflow from several parts of the watershed.

The model was constructed by using spatial datasets describing watershed topography, the streams, and the hydrologic characteristics of the basin soils and vegetation. Time-series data (daily total precipitation, and daily minimum and maximum temperature) were input to the model to simulate daily streamflow. The model was calibrated for water years 2002–2007 and evaluated for water years 1996–2001. Though water year 2008 was included in the study period to evaluate water-budget components, calibration and evaluation data were unavailable for that year. During the calibration and evaluation periods, simulated-natural flow values were compared to reconstructed-natural streamflow data. These reconstructed-natural streamflow data were calculated by adding Bureau of Reclamation’s depletions data to the observed streamflows. Reconstructed-natural streamflows represent estimates of streamflows for water years 1996–2007 assuming there was no agricultural water-resources development in the watershed. Additional calibration targets were basin mean monthly solar radiation and potential evapotranspiration.

The model estimated the hydrologic processes in the Smith River watershed during the calibration and evaluation periods. Simulated-natural mean annual and mean monthly flows generally were the same or higher than the reconstructed-natural streamflow values during the calibration period, whereas they were lower during the evaluation period. The shape of the annual hydrographs for the simulated-natural daily streamflow values matched the shape of the hydrographs for the reconstructed-natural values for most of the calibration period, but daily streamflow values were underestimated during the evaluation period for water years 1996–1998.

The model enabled a detailed evaluation of the components of the water budget within the Smith River watershed during the water year 1996–2008 study period. During this study period, simulated mean annual precipitation across the Smith River watershed was 16 inches, out of which 14 inches evaporated or transpired and 2 inches left the basin as streamflow. Per the precipitation-runoff model simulations, during most of the year, surface runoff rarely (less than 2 percent of the time during water years 2002–2008) makes up more than 10 percent of the total streamflow. Subsurface flow (the combination of interflow and groundwater flow) makes up most of the total streamflow (99 or more percent of total streamflow for 71 percent of the time during water years 2002–2008).

Publication Year 2014
Title A precipitation-runoff model for simulating natural streamflow conditions in the Smith River watershed, Montana, water years 1996-2008
DOI 10.3133/sir20145125
Authors Katherine J. Chase, Rodney R. Caldwell, Andrea K. Stanley
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2014-5125
Index ID sir20145125
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wyoming-Montana Water Science Center