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Open-File Report 2011–1202

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Compilation of Watershed Models for Tributaries to the Great Lakes, United States, as of 2010, and Identification of Watersheds for Future Modeling for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

By William F. Coon, Elizabeth A. Murphy, David T. Soong, and Jennifer B. Sharpe

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (10.3 MB)Abstract

As part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) during 2009–10, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) compiled a list of existing watershed models that had been created for tributaries within the United States that drain to the Great Lakes. Established Federal programs that are overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) are responsible for most of the existing watershed models for specific tributaries. The NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) uses the Large Basin Runoff Model to provide data for the management of water levels in the Great Lakes by estimating United States and Canadian inflows to the Great Lakes from 121 large watersheds. GLERL also simulates streamflows in 34 U.S. watersheds by a grid-based model, the Distributed Large Basin Runoff Model. The NOAA National Weather Service uses the Sacramento Soil Moisture Accounting model to predict flows at river forecast sites. The USACE created or funded the creation of models for at least 30 tributaries to the Great Lakes to better understand sediment erosion, transport, and aggradation processes that affect Federal navigation channels and harbors. Many of the USACE hydrologic models have been coupled with hydrodynamic and sediment-transport models that simulate the processes in the stream and harbor near the mouth of the modeled tributary.

Some models either have been applied or have the capability of being applied across the entire Great Lakes Basin; they are (1) the SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes (SPARROW) model, which was developed by the USGS; (2) the High Impact Targeting (HIT) and Digital Watershed models, which were developed by the Institute of Water Research at Michigan State University; (3) the Long-Term Hydrologic Impact Assessment (L–THIA) model, which was developed by researchers at Purdue University; and (4) the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) model, which was developed by the National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During 2010, the USGS used the Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (PRMS) to create a hydrologic model for the Lake Michigan Basin to assess the probable effects of climate change on future groundwater and surface-water resources. The Water Availability Tool for Environmental Resources (WATER) model and the Analysis of Flows In Networks of CHannels (AFINCH) program also were used to support USGS GLRI projects that required estimates of streamflows throughout the Great Lakes Basin.

This information on existing watershed models, along with an assessment of geologic, soils, and land-use data across the Great Lakes Basin and the identification of problems that exist in selected tributary watersheds that could be addressed by a watershed model, was used to identify three watersheds in the Great Lakes Basin for future modeling by the USGS. These watersheds are the Kalamazoo River Basin in Michigan, the Tonawanda Creek Basin in New York, and the Bad River Basin in Wisconsin. These candidate watersheds have hydrogeologic, land-type, and soil characteristics that make them distinct from each other, but that are representative of other tributary watersheds within the Great Lakes Basin. These similarities in the characteristics among nearby watersheds will enhance the usefulness of a model by improving the likelihood that parameter values from a previously modeled watershed could reliably be used in the creation of a model of another watershed in the same region. The software program Hydrological Simulation Program–Fortran (HSPF) was selected to simulate the hydrologic, sedimentary, and water-quality processes in these selected watersheds. HSPF is a versatile, process-based, continuous-simulation model that has been used extensively by the scientific community, has the ongoing technical support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and USGS, and provides a means to evaluate the effects that land-use changes or management practices might have on the simulated processes.

First posted September 29, 2011

For additional information contact:
U.S. Geological Survey
New York Water Science Center
425 Jordan Road
Troy, NY 12180

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Suggested citation:

Coon, W.F., Murphy, E.A., Soong, D.T., and Sharpe, J.B., 2011, Compilation of watershed models for tributaries to the Great Lakes, United States, as of 2010, and identification of watersheds for future modeling for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011–1202, 23 p. (Also available at




Compilation of Existing Watershed Models

Assessment of Watershed Characteristics

Criteria for Selection of Tributary Watersheds for Future Modeling

Identification of Modeling Software and Candidate Watersheds for Modeling

Kalamazoo River, Michigan

Tonawanda Creek, New York

Bad River, Wisconsin


References Cited

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