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Calibration of Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (PRMS) to simulate prefire and postfire hydrologic response in the upper Rio Hondo Basin, New Mexico

April 24, 2019

The Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (PRMS) is widely used to simulate the effects of climate, topography, land cover, and soils on landscape-level hydrologic responses and streamflow. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, developed procedures to apply the PRMS model to simulate the effects of fire on hydrologic responses.

A PRMS model was built of the upper Rio Hondo Basin from the headwaters to approximately 19 miles downstream from the USGS streamgage Rio Hondo above Chavez Canyon near Hondo, New Mexico, by using 24 hydrologic response units (HRUs), or hydrologically similar subareas, from the National Hydrologic Model. A quasi-graphical user interface was created to easily query and analyze published PRMS sensitivity-analysis data. Simulation of mean daily streamflow was most sensitive to parameters related to snowmelt or infiltration throughout the upper Rio Hondo Basin. In the basin’s eastern and northern HRUs, flashiness and timing of streamflow were most sensitive to interflow; in many western-basin HRUs (higher elevations), flashiness of streamflow was most sensitive to soil moisture parameters, and timing of streamflow was most sensitive to infiltration and evapotranspiration parameters.

The PRMS model was calibrated for the fire-affected North Fork Eagle Creek subwatershed by comparing modeled to observed daily streamflow for the nonfrozen (May through October) period for a prefire and postfire time period. The prefire model was calibrated for the period 2007–12 before the 2012 fire, and the postfire model was calibrated for a 2-year (2014–15) period after the fire. Model parameterization combined manual adjustment of 8 parameters on the basis of prior knowledge and automated adjustment of the most sensitive parameters by using the Let Us Calibrate interface. A gridded, daily precipitation dataset that captured the spatial heterogeneity across the study watershed was used as the precipitation input for calibration. Model performance was assessed as satisfactory by using standard statistical measures for prefire and postfire periods.

The calibrated model was run by using data from a single precipitation gage to better represent the effect of localized, extreme storms on postfire hydrologic response. The calibrated models for prefire and postfire conditions simulated streamflows with greater consistency than the uncalibrated model for the corresponding (prefire or postfire) period of hydrographic record. The effect of fire on streamflow was found to be primarily a shift from streamflow dominated by base flow prior to fire to streamflow dominated by surface runoff after fire.

Publication Year 2019
Title Calibration of Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (PRMS) to simulate prefire and postfire hydrologic response in the upper Rio Hondo Basin, New Mexico
DOI 10.3133/sir20195022
Authors Kyle R. Douglas-Mankin, C. David Moeser
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5022
Index ID sir20195022
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New Mexico Water Science Center