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Evaluation of hydrologic simulation models for fields with subsurface drainage to mitigated wetlands in Barnes, Dickey, and Sargent Counties, North Dakota

September 15, 2021

Proper identification of wetlands, along with a better understanding of the hydrology of mitigated wetlands, is needed to assist with conservation efforts aimed at maintaining the productivity and ecological function (wetland mitigation) of agricultural lands. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, completed a study to evaluate two models for simulating hydrologic conditions in fields with subsurface drainage to mitigated wetlands at several sites in North Dakota. These two models were evaluated as possible tools for water resource managers to use for designing wetland mitigation projects in the area in the future.

The Soil-Plant-Atmosphere-Water (SPAW) model simulates the daily hydrologic water budgets of agricultural landscapes by two linked routines, one for farm fields (field hydrology) and one for impoundments such as wetlands and ponds (pond model). The DRAINMOD model was used in conjunction with the SPAW model because although the SPAW model can be used to simulate the hydrology of small drainage basins containing wetlands, the SPAW model does not contain routines to simulate drainage, either subsurface drainage or surface (drainage ditches), that can directly affect the wetland hydrology. The wetlands in the study areas in this report are all downstream from and adjacent to drained agricultural fields. SPAW and DRAINMOD models were developed and calibrated at three study areas (study areas B, D, and S) to evaluate how the models simulated field-scale hydrologic characteristics and the water balance in wetlands from January 1, 2003, through December 31, 2018.

The SPAW model developed for study area B included five modeled fields in the field hydrology portion of SPAW that contributed inflow to one wetland simulated in the pond model portion of SPAW. Simulated wetland water depths were most similar to water depths measured at site BWET1, with an absolute mean error of 0.10 foot and a root mean square error of 0.14 foot. Site BWET2 had slightly larger errors, with an absolute mean error of 0.22 foot and a root mean square error of 0.28 foot. Simulated water depths were similar to the pattern of measured water depths at BWET1 and BWET2 from about mid-April 2018 through about mid-September 2018, but overpredicted water depths in the fall from about mid-September 2018 through about mid-October 2018.

The SPAW model developed for study area D included six modeled fields in the field hydrology portion of SPAW that contributed inflow to five wetlands connected in series in the pond model portion of SPAW. Simulated water depths compared relatively well to water depths in the five wetlands, with the absolute mean error ranging from 0.17 foot (DWET1) to 0.39 foot (DWET2), and the root mean square error ranging from 0.28 foot (DWET1) to 0.56 foot (DWET5).

The SPAW model developed for study area S included one modeled field in the field hydrology portion of SPAW that contributed inflow to one wetland in the pond model portion of SPAW. Among the SPAW models developed for the three study areas, the model for study area S had the best comparison between simulated and measured water depths, with an absolute mean error of 0.06 foot and a root mean square error of 0.10 foot.

DRAINMOD models were developed and calibrated at the three study areas and provided inflow from subsurface drainage discharge to the SPAW models for simulating water levels in wetlands in the study areas. The calibrated DRAINMOD model for study area B showed the variability of hydrologic processes in the modeled field throughout the wide range of hydrologic conditions from January 1, 2003, through December 31, 2018. In general, the discharge through the modeled subsurface drainage system was in the spring and early summer (April through June) most years, with little to no discharge later in the year. Although the subsurface drainage system in study area D was the most complex among the three study areas and was simplified into a uniform system within DRAINMOD, simulated water table depths at study area D correlated better to measured water table depths compared to results from the model applications at the other two study areas. Simulated water table depths had an absolute mean error of 0.30 foot and root mean square error of 0.37 foot at site DGW1 and an absolute mean error of 0.29 foot and a root mean square error of 0.34 foot at site DGW2. Although the subsurface drainage system in study area S was the simplest and the modeled field was the smallest among the three study areas, simulated water table depths at study area S did not correlate as well to measured water table depths compared to results from the model applications at the other two study areas.

The SPAW and DRAINMOD model applications at the three study areas in southeast North Dakota adequately simulated the hydrologic processes for fields with subsurface drainage that are connected to adjacent wetlands. However, more measured data would be needed to fully evaluate the models throughout the range of possible climatic conditions.