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Evaluation of Methods Used for Estimating Selected Streamflow Statistics, and Flood Frequency and Magnitude, for Small Basins in North Coastal California

August 1, 2004

Accurate streamflow statistics are essential to water resource agencies involved in both science and decision-making. When long-term streamflow data are lacking at a site, estimation techniques are often employed to generate streamflow statistics. However, procedures for accurately estimating streamflow statistics often are lacking. When estimation procedures are developed, they often are not evaluated properly before being applied. Use of unevaluated or underevaluated flow-statistic estimation techniques can result in improper water-resources decision-making. The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) uses two key techniques, a modified rational equation and drainage basin area-ratio transfer, to estimate streamflow statistics at ungaged locations. These techniques have been implemented to varying degrees, but have not been formally evaluated. For estimating peak flows at the 2-, 5-, 10-, 25-, 50-, and 100-year recurrence intervals, the SWRCB uses the U.S. Geological Surveys (USGS) regional peak-flow equations. In this study, done cooperatively by the USGS and SWRCB, the SWRCB estimated several flow statistics at 40 USGS streamflow gaging stations in the north coast region of California. The SWRCB estimates were made without reference to USGS flow data. The USGS used the streamflow data provided by the 40 stations to generate flow statistics that could be compared with SWRCB estimates for accuracy. While some SWRCB estimates compared favorably with USGS statistics, results were subject to varying degrees of error over the region. Flow-based estimation techniques generally performed better than rain-based methods, especially for estimation of December 15 to March 31 mean daily flows. The USGS peak-flow equations also performed well, but tended to underestimate peak flows. The USGS equations performed within reported error bounds, but will require updating in the future as peak-flow data sets grow larger. Little correlation was discovered between estimation errors and geographic locations or various basin characteristics. However, for 25-percentile year mean-daily-flow estimates for December 15 to March 31, the greatest estimation errors were at east San Francisco Bay area stations with mean annual precipitation less than or equal to 30 inches, and estimated 2-year/24-hour rainfall intensity less than 3 inches.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2004
Title Evaluation of Methods Used for Estimating Selected Streamflow Statistics, and Flood Frequency and Magnitude, for Small Basins in North Coastal California
DOI 10.3133/sir20045068
Authors Michael P. Mann, Jule Rizzardo, Richard Satkowski
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2004-5068
Index ID sir20045068
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization