Simulation of Hydrodynamics and Water Temperature in a 21-Mile Reach of the Upper Illinois River, Illinois, 2020–22

Scientific Investigations Report 2024-5025
By:  and 



This report describes the development of a CE-QUAL-W2 river hydrodynamics and temperature model of a 21-mile reach of the Illinois River including a 3-mile reach of a major tributary, the Fox River. Model outputs consist of streamflow, water velocity, water-surface elevation, and water-temperature time series that can be used to simulate summer conditions in years with and without extensive development of harmful algal blooms (HABs). These analyses may provide a better understanding of some complex factors contributing to HAB development along the Illinois River. Such an understanding may provide more accurate HAB timing and location predictions and may help determine potential mitigating activities to prevent or limit the size and duration of HABs.

Using the observed and simulated hydrodynamic conditions in the Illinois River study reach, it was possible to compare and contrast streamflow, velocity, and temperature conditions in years with varying HAB distributions. Occurrences of extensive HABs were documented in the study reach in June 2020 and June 2021, but only a small HAB restricted to the Marseilles Lock and Dam pool occurred in the summer of 2022. The objective then was to find similarities in site conditions between 2020 and 2021 that may contrast with the conditions in 2022. Among the 3 years included in the study, the variability in simulated water temperature exceeded variability in observed streamflow and simulated velocities. The longest period of water temperatures greater than 27 degrees Celsius (°C) in the selected locations in June of the three analysis years was in the second half of June 2022, yet no study-area wide HAB was documented in 2022. Simulations indicated that after warm water temperatures were established in the reach in June 2022, a cooling period broke up the warming period. This period of cooling was greater in magnitude and duration downstream from the location of a localized HAB perhaps limiting the spread of the bloom.

Residence times differed substantially in segments representing different channel features; values ranged from 0.28 to 15.9 (days per 500 meters of channel) between the main stem and backwater areas, respectively. Variation in average June residence times was also greater among different channel features than among different years in the study period. The HABs in 2020 and 2021 at Starved Rock Dam were documented when water temperatures were about 26 °C. River backwater areas at some locations did attain these temperatures 2 to 3 days before the conditions in the main stem. Residence times in the backwater areas, however, generally exceeded 9 days, thus limiting the exchange of water carrying algal biomass into the main channel.

Hydrodynamic model calibration involved adjusting model parameters until observed and simulated daily water-surface elevations, daily streamflows, discrete velocities, and channel areas were similar. Temperature calibration was done with near-surface continuous time-series data and discrete vertical profile temperatures. Observed and simulated water temperatures generally were within 1 °C at all monitoring locations.

Suggested Citation

Ament, M.R., and Heimann, D.C., 2024, Simulation of hydrodynamics and water temperature in a 21-mile reach of the upper Illinois River, Illinois, 2020–22: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2024–5025, 36 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Model Development and Calibration
  • Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulation of hydrodynamics and water temperature in a 21-mile reach of the upper Illinois River, Illinois, 2020–22
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2024-5025
DOI 10.3133/sir20245025
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Central Midwest Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 36 p.; Data Release; Dataset
Country United States
State Illinois
Other Geospatial Upper Illinois River
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details