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A new approach for continuous estimation of baseflow using discrete water quality data: Method description and comparison with baseflow estimates from two existing approaches

March 5, 2015

Understanding how watershed characteristics and climate influence the baseflow component of stream discharge is a topic of interest to both the scientific and water management communities. Therefore, the development of baseflow estimation methods is a topic of active research. Previous studies have demonstrated that graphical hydrograph separation (GHS) and conductivity mass balance (CMB) methods can be applied to stream discharge data to estimate daily baseflow. While CMB is generally considered to be a more objective approach than GHS, its application across broad spatial scales is limited by a lack of high frequency specific conductance (SC) data. We propose a new method that uses discrete SC data, which are widely available, to estimate baseflow at a daily time step using the CMB method. The proposed approach involves the development of regression models that relate discrete SC concentrations to stream discharge and time. Regression-derived CMB baseflow estimates were more similar to baseflow estimates obtained using a CMB approach with measured high frequency SC data than were the GHS baseflow estimates at twelve snowmelt dominated streams and rivers. There was a near perfect fit between the regression-derived and measured CMB baseflow estimates at sites where the regression models were able to accurately predict daily SC concentrations. We propose that the regression-derived approach could be applied to estimate baseflow at large numbers of sites, thereby enabling future investigations of watershed and climatic characteristics that influence the baseflow component of stream discharge across large spatial scales.

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