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The Connecticut Streamflow and Sustainable Water Use Estimator—A decision-support tool to estimate water availability at ungaged stream locations in Connecticut

December 13, 2018

Freshwater streams in Connecticut are subject to many competing demands, including public water supply; agricultural, commercial, and industrial water use; and ecosystem and habitat needs. In recent years, drought has further stressed Connecticut’s water resources. To sustainably allocate and manage water resources among these competing uses, Federal, State, and local water-resource managers require data and modeling tools to estimate the water availability at a variety of temporal and spatial scales for planning purposes. The Connecticut Streamflow and Sustainable Water Use Estimator (CT SSWUE), developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, is a decision-support tool for estimating daily unaltered streamflow and sustainable water use at ungaged sites in Connecticut.

The CT SSWUE estimates unaltered daily mean streamflow and water-use-adjusted streamflow for the period from October 1, 1960, to September 30, 2015, and the monthly sustainable net withdrawal at ungaged sites in Connecticut. Unaltered streamflow is the estimated daily mean streamflow in a drainage basin in the absence of any water withdrawals or wastewater discharges and with minimal human development. Sustainable net withdrawal is the maximum net withdrawal (withdrawal minus wastewater discharges) that can be drawn from a basin without critically depleting the water available through natural streamflow patterns. Sustainable net withdrawal is defined for this study as the difference between the unaltered daily mean streamflow and a user-defined target minimum streamflow.

Weighted least squares and Tobit regression techniques were used to develop equations for estimating streamflow at ungaged sites at 19 streamflow quantiles with exceedance probabilities ranging from 0.005 to 99.995 percent. Regressions were based on streamflow quantiles and basin characteristics from 36 reference streamgages in and around Connecticut. Four basin characteristics—drainage area, mean of the soil permeability, mean of the average annual precipitation, and ratio of the length of streams that overlay sand and gravel deposits to the total length of streams in the basin—are used as explanatory variables in the equations. At an ungaged site, interpolation between the streamflow quantiles estimated from the regression equations produces a continuous flow-duration curve. A time series of daily mean streamflow at an ungaged site is then estimated by assuming that for each day, the streamflow quantile occurs on the same date at both a reference streamgage and the ungaged site.

In a remove-one cross validation, estimated unaltered daily mean streamflow agreed well with observed values at reference streamgages, with a few exceptions. Nash Sutcliffe efficiency ranged from −0.43 to 0.97 with a median value of 0.88. The normalized root-mean-square error ranged from 16.6 to 120.4 percent with a median value of 34.5 percent.

An empirical method for estimating 95-percent prediction intervals for unaltered daily and monthly mean streamflow was developed and tested by using the cross-validation data. Prediction intervals for unaltered daily mean streamflow at the cross-validation reference streamgages performed well in most cases. Gaged streamflow values from the cross-validation data fell within the prediction intervals a median 96.6 percent of the time for daily mean time series and 93.9 percent of the time for monthly mean time series.

The CT SSWUE computes water-use-adjusted streamflow using spatially referenced water-use information provided by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Available water-use information included permitted and registered water withdrawals and permitted wastewater discharges during 1998 to 2015 for the Thames River Basin and central coastal drainage basins. Water-use information was incorporated into the U.S. Geological Survey StreamStats web application for Connecticut and can be used for computing water-use-adjusted streamflow and sustainable net withdrawal at selected points of interest. Altered daily streamflow is computed by applying average daily withdrawals and wastewater discharges to the water balance equation. Average daily surface water withdrawals and wastewater discharges are applied directly to the daily water balance equation. Time-lagged alterations on streamflow from groundwater withdrawals or wastewater discharges are estimated by using a response-coefficient method developed from results of previously published, calibrated groundwater models.