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Simulation of groundwater and surface-water flow in the upper Deschutes Basin, Oregon

October 20, 2017

This report describes a hydrologic model for the upper Deschutes Basin in central Oregon developed using the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) integrated Groundwater and Surface-Water Flow model (GSFLOW). The upper Deschutes Basin, which drains much of the eastern side of the Cascade Range in Oregon, is underlain by large areas of permeable volcanic rock. That permeability, in combination with the large annual precipitation at high elevations, results in a substantial regional aquifer system and a stream system that is heavily groundwater dominated.

The upper Deschutes Basin is also an area of expanding population and increasing water demand for public supply and agriculture. Surface water was largely developed for agricultural use by the mid-20th century, and is closed to additional appropriations. Consequently, water users look to groundwater to satisfy the growing demand. The well‑documented connection between groundwater and the stream system, and the institutional and legal restrictions on streamflow depletion by wells, resulted in the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) instituting a process whereby additional groundwater pumping can be permitted only if the effects to streams are mitigated, for example, by reducing permitted surface-water diversions. Implementing such a program requires understanding of the spatial and temporal distribution of effects to streams from groundwater pumping. A groundwater model developed in the early 2000s by the USGS and OWRD has been used to provide insights into the distribution of streamflow depletion by wells, but lacks spatial resolution in sensitive headwaters and spring areas.

The integrated model developed for this project, based largely on the earlier model, has a much finer grid spacing allowing resolution of sensitive headwater streams and important spring areas, and simulates a more complete set of surface processes as well as runoff and groundwater flow. In addition, the integrated model includes improved representation of subsurface geology and explicitly simulates the effects of hydrologically important fault zones not included in the previous model.

The upper Deschutes Basin GSFLOW model was calibrated using an iterative trial and error approach using measured water-level elevations (water levels) from 800 wells, 144 of which have time series of 10 or more measurements. Streamflow was calibrated using data from 21 gage locations. At 14 locations where measured flows are heavily influenced by reservoir operations and irrigation diversions, so called “naturalized” flows, with the effects of reservoirs and diversion removed, developed by the Bureau of Reclamation, were used for calibration. Surface energy and moisture processes such as solar radiation, snow accumulation and melting, and evapotranspiration were calibrated using national datasets as well as data from long-term measurement sites in the basin. The calibrated Deschutes GSFLOW model requires daily precipitation, minimum and maximum air temperature data, and monthly data describing groundwater pumping and artificial recharge from leaking irrigation canals (which are a significant source of groundwater recharge).

The calibrated model simulates the geographic distribution of hydraulic head over the 5,000 ft range measured in the basin, with a median absolute residual of about 53 ft. Temporal variations in head resulting from climate cycles, pumping, and canal leakage are well simulated over the model area. Simulated daily streamflow matches gaged flows or calculated naturalized flows for streams including the Crooked and Metolius Rivers, and lower parts of the mainstem Deschutes River. Seasonal patterns of runoff are less well fit in some upper basin streams. Annual water balances of streamflow are good over most of the model domain. Model fit and overall capabilities are appropriate for the objectives of the project.

The integrated model results confirm findings from other studies and models indicating that most streamflow in the upper Deschutes Basin comes directly from groundwater discharge. The integrated model provides additional insights about the components of streamflow including direct groundwater discharge to streams, interflow, groundwater discharge to the land surface (Dunnian flow), and direct runoff (Hortonian flow). The new model provides improved capability for exploring the timing and distribution of 

streamflow capture by wells, and the hydrologic response to changes in other external stresses such as canal operation, irrigation, and drought. Because the model uses basic meteorological data as the primary input; and simulates surface energy and moisture balances, groundwater recharge and flow, and all components of streamflow; it is well suited for exploring the hydrologic response to climate change, although no such simulations are included in this report.

The model was developed as a tool for future application; however, example simulations are provided in this report. In the example simulations, the model is used to explore the influence of well location and geologic structure on stream capture by pumping wells. Wells were simulated at three locations within a 12-mi area close to known groundwater discharge areas and crossed by a regional fault zone. Simulations indicate that the magnitude and timing of stream capture from pumping is largely controlled by the geographic location of the wells, but that faults can have a large influence on the propagation of pumping stresses.

Publication Year 2017
Title Simulation of groundwater and surface-water flow in the upper Deschutes Basin, Oregon
DOI 10.3133/sir20175097
Authors Marshall W. Gannett, Kenneth E. Lite, John C. Risley, Esther M. Pischel, Jonathan L. La Marche
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2017-5097
Index ID sir20175097
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Oregon Water Science Center