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Open-File Report 2007–1159

Estimating Water Storage Capacity of Existing and Potentially Restorable Wetland Depressions in a Subbasin of the Red River of the North

By Robert A. Gleason, Brian A. Tangen, Murray K. Laubhan, Kevin E. Kermes, and Ned H. Euliss, Jr.

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Executive Summary

Concern over flooding along rivers in the Prairie Pothole Region has stimulated interest in developing spatially distributed hydrologic models to simulate the effects of wetland water storage on peak river flows. Such models require spatial data on the storage volume and interception area of existing and restorable wetlands in the watershed of interest. In most cases, information on these model inputs is lacking because resolution of existing topographic maps is inadequate to estimate volume and areas of existing and restorable wetlands. Consequently, most studies have relied on wetland area to volume or interception area relationships to estimate wetland basin storage characteristics by using available surface area data obtained as a product from remotely sensed data (e.g., National Wetlands Inventory). Though application of areal input data to estimate volume and interception areas is widely used, a drawback is that there is little information available to provide guidance regarding the application, limitations, and biases associated with such approaches. Another limitation of previous modeling efforts is that water stored by wetlands within a watershed is treated as a simple lump storage component that is filled prior to routing overflow to a pour point or gaging station. This approach does not account for dynamic wetland processes that influence water stored in prairie wetlands. Further, most models have not considered the influence of human-induced hydrologic changes, such as land use, that greatly influence quantity of surface water inputs and, ultimately, the rate that a wetland basin fills and spills.

The goals of this study were to (1) develop and improve methodologies for estimating and spatially depicting wetland storage volumes and interceptions areas and (2) develop models and approaches for estimating/simulating the water storage capacity of potentially restorable and existing wetlands under various restoration, land use, and climatic scenarios. To address these goals, we developed models and approaches to spatially represent storage volumes and interception areas of existing and potentially restorable wetlands in the upper Mustinka subbasin within Grant County, Minn. We then developed and applied a model to simulate wetland water storage increases that would result from restoring 25 and 50 percent of the farmed and drained wetlands in the upper Mustinka subbasin. The model simulations were performed during the growing season (May–October) for relatively wet (1993; 0.67 m of precipitation) and dry (1987; 0.32 m of precipitation) years. Results from the simulations indicated that the 25 percent restoration scenario would increase water storage by 27–32 percent and that a 50 percent scenario would increase storage by 53–63 percent. Additionally, we estimated that wetlands in the subbasin have potential to store 11.57–20.98 percent of the total precipitation that fell over the entire subbasin area (52,758 ha). Our simulation results indicated that there is considerable potential to enhance water storage in the subbasin; however, evaluation and calibration of the model is necessary before simulation results can be applied to management and planning decisions.

In this report we present guidance for the development and application of models (e.g., surface area-volume predictive models, hydrology simulation model) to simulate wetland water storage to provide a basis from which to understand and predict the effects of natural or human-induced hydrologic alterations. In developing these approaches, we tried to use simple and widely available input data to simulate wetland hydrology and predict wetland water storage for a specific precipitation event or a series of events. Further, the hydrology simulation model accounted for land use and soil type, which influence surface water inputs to wetlands. Although information presented in this report is specific to the Mustinka subbasin, the approaches and methods developed should be applicable to other regions in the Prairie Pothole Region.

Version 1.0

Posted June 2007


Suggested citation:


Gleason, R.A., Tangen, B.A., Laubhan, M.K., Kermes, K.E., and Euliss, N.H., Jr., 2007, Estimating Water Storage Capacity of Existing and Potentially Restorable Wetland Depressions in a Subbasin of the Red River of the North: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1159, 35 p.


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