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Development and calibration of HEC–RAS hydraulic, temperature, and nutrient models for the Mohawk River, New York

February 26, 2024

In support of a preliminary analysis performed by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that found elevated nutrient levels along selected reaches of the Mohawk River, a one-dimensional, unsteady hydraulic and water-quality model (Hydrologic Engineering Center River Analysis System Nutrient Simulation Module 1 [HEC–RAS NSM I]) was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey for the 127-mile reach of the Mohawk River between Rome and Cohoes, New York. The model was designed to accurately simulate within-channel flow conditions for this highly regulated, control-structure dense river reach. The model was calibrated for the period of May through September 2016 using available streamflow, temperature, and water-quality data. Nitrogen, phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, and water column algae were balanced within the model; however, the nutrient model calibration was focused on phosphorus.

The HEC–RAS hydraulic model simulated streamflow adequately at the calibration locations with observed and simulated daily flows demonstrating coefficient of determination (r2) values ranging from 0.91 to 0.97, mean absolute error ranging from 15–20 percent, and bias ranging from −7 to 16 percent. The water temperature model within HEC–RAS NSM I demonstrated remarkable ability to simulate water temperature: typical water temperature errors were less than 1.0 degree Celsius (°C). Simulated water temperature results closely tracked observed continuous water temperature data at three locations on the Mohawk River, with mean absolute error for the 2016 study period ranging from 0.87 to 0.90 °C, and a root mean square error of 1.00 to 1.07 °C.

Performance criteria for the water-quality (nutrient) model were applied differently than the water temperature model because of the temporally coarse discrete samples collected for the project. The average difference between final simulated concentrations and observed concentrations of organic phosphorus for all sample locations was within 0.01 milligrams per liter (mg/L) and within 0.09 mg/L for orthophosphate using all locations except Rome, which was within 0.25 mg/L.

The calibrated model was used to implement nine phosphorus reduction scenarios by applying reductions to wastewater treatment plant effluent concentrations within the model. Monthly mean differences were computed for five comparison locations. Scenario results were generally linear and predictable; scenarios implementing the highest reductions showed correspondingly larger differences in Mohawk River concentrations downstream from the wastewater treatment plants associated with those reductions. The largest monthly mean differences were realized from reduction scenario nine and ranged from −0.018 to −0.076 mg/L for organic phosphorus and from 0.001 to −0.138 mg/L for orthophosphate.

Publication Year 2024
Title Development and calibration of HEC–RAS hydraulic, temperature, and nutrient models for the Mohawk River, New York
DOI 10.3133/sir20245005
Authors Thomas P. Suro, Michal J. Niemoczynski, Anna Boetsma
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2024-5005
Index ID sir20245005
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New Jersey Water Science Center