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Regional interdisciplinary paleoflood approach to assess extreme flood potential

January 1, 2000

In the past decade, there has been a growing interest of dam safety officials to incorporate a risk‐based analysis for design‐flood hydrology. Extreme or rare floods, with probabilities in the range of about 10−3 to 10−7 chance of occurrence per year, are of continuing interest to the hydrologic and engineering communities for purposes of planning and design of structures such as dams [National Research Council, 1988]. The National Research Council stresses that as much information as possible about floods needs to be used for evaluation of the risk and consequences of any decision. A regional interdisciplinary paleoflood approach was developed to assist dam safety officials and floodplain managers in their assessments of the risk of large floods. The interdisciplinary components included documenting maximum paleofloods and a regional analyses of contemporary extreme rainfall and flood data to complement a site‐specific probable maximum precipitation study [Tomlinson and Solak, 1997]. The cost‐effective approach, which can be used in many other hydrometeorologic settings, was applied to Elkhead Reservoir in Elkhead Creek (531 km2) in northwestern Colorado; the regional study area was 10,900 km2. Paleoflood data using bouldery flood deposits and noninundation surfaces for 88 streams were used to document maximum flood discharges that have occurred during the Holocene. Several relative dating methods were used to determine the age of paleoflood deposits and noninundation surfaces. No evidence of substantial flooding was found in the study area. The maximum paleoflood of 135 m3 s−1 for Elkhead Creek is about 13% of the site‐specific probable maximum flood of 1020 m3 s−1. Flood‐frequency relations using the expected moments algorithm, which better incorporates paleoflood data, were developed to assess the risk of extreme floods. Envelope curves encompassing maximum rainfall (181 sites) and floods (218 sites) were developed for northwestern Colorado to help define maximum contemporary and Holocene flooding in Elkhead Creek and in a regional frequency context. Study results for Elkhead Reservoir were accepted by the Colorado State Engineer for dam safety certification.

Publication Year 2000
Title Regional interdisciplinary paleoflood approach to assess extreme flood potential
DOI 10.1029/2000WR900098
Authors Robert D. Jarrett, Edward M. Tomlinson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70022341
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Central Branch