One-Water Hydrologic Flow Model: A MODFLOW Based Conjunctive-Use Simulation Software

Techniques and Methods 6-A60
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation
By: , and 



The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Modular Ground-Water Flow Model (MODFLOW-2005) is a computer program that simulates groundwater flow by using finite differences. The MODFLOW-2005 framework uses a modular design that allows for the easy development and incorporation of new features called processes and packages that work with or modify inputs to the groundwater-flow equation. A process solves a flow equation or set of equations. For example, the central part of MODFLOW is the groundwater-flow process that solves the groundwater-flow equation; the surface-water routing process is an additional process that solves the surface-water flow equation. Packages are code related to the groundwater-flow process. For example, the subsidence package modifies the groundwater-flow process by including aquifer compaction effects on flow. With the development of new packages and processes, the MODFLOW-2005 base framework diverged into multiple independent versions designed for specific simulation needs. This divergence limited each independent MODFLOW release to its specific purpose, so that there was no longer a single, comprehensive, general-purpose hydraulic-simulation framework.

The MODFLOW One-Water Hydrologic Flow Model (MF-OWHM, also informally known as OneWater) is an integrated hydrologic flow model that combines multiple MODFLOW-2005 variants in one cohesive simulation software; changes were made to enable multiple capabilities in one code. This fusion of the MODFLOW-2005 versions resulted in a simulation software that can be used to address and analyze a wide class of conjunctive-use, water-management, water-food-security, and climate-crop-water scenarios. As a second core version of MODFLOW-2005, MF-OWHM maintains backward compatibility with existing MODFLOW-2005 versions, with features that include the following:

  • Process-based simulation.
    • Saturated groundwater flow (three-dimensional).
    • Surface-water flow (one- and two-dimensional).
      • Stream and river flow.
      • Lake and reservoir storage.
    • Landscape simulation and irrigated agriculture.
      • Land-use and crop simulation.
      • Root uptake of groundwater.
      • Actual evapotranspiration.
      • Estimated irrigation demand.
    • Reservoir operations.
    • Aquifer compaction and subsidence by vertical model-grid deformation.
    • Seawater intrusion by a sharp-interface assumption.
    • Karst-aquifer and fractured-bedrock flow.
    • Turbulent and laminar-pipe network flow.
    • Unsaturated groundwater flow (one-dimensional).
  • Internal linkages among the processes that couple hydraulic head, flow, and deformation.
  • Redesigned code for faster simulation, increased user-input options, easier model updates, and more robust error reporting than in previous models.

MF-OWHM is a MODFLOW-2005 based integrated hydrologic model that can simulate and analyze varying environmental conditions to allow for the evaluation of management options from many components of human and natural water movement through a physically based, supply and demand framework. The term “integrated,” in the context of this report, refers to the tight coupling of groundwater flow, surface-water flow, landscape processes, aquifer compaction and subsidence, reservoir operations, and conduit (karst) flow. Another benefit of this integrated hydrologic model is that models developed to run by MODFLOW-2005, MODFLOW-NWT, MODFLOW-CFP, or MODFLOW-FMP can also be simulated with MF-OWHM. At the time of this report’s publication, MF-OWHM version 2 (MF-OWHM2) does not include a direct internal simulation of snowmelt, advanced mountainous watershed rainfall-runoff simulation, detailed shallow soil-moisture accounting, or atmospheric moisture content. Atmospheric moisture may be accounted for indirectly by, optionally, specifying a pan-evaporation rate, reference evapotranspiration, and precipitation. These features are not included to ensure that simulation runtime remains short enough to enable the use of automated methods of calibrating model parameters to field observations, which typically require many simulation model runs. The MF-OWHM approach is to include as much detail as possible to simulate hydrological processes, providing the simulation runtimes remain reasonable enough to allow for robust parameter estimation and model calibration.

To represent both natural and human-influenced flow, MF-OWHM integrates physically based flow processes derived from MODFLOW-2005 in a supply and demand framework. From this integration, the physically based movement of groundwater, surface water, imported water, and precipitation serve as supply to meet consumptive demands associated with irrigated and non-irrigated agriculture, natural vegetation, and urban water uses. Water consumption is determined by balancing the available water supply with water demand, leading to the concept of a demand-driven, supply-constrained simulation.

The MF-OWHM Supply-and-Demand Framework is especially useful for the analysis of agricultural water use, where there are often few data available to describe changes in land-use through time, such as crop type and distribution, and the associated changes in groundwater pumpage. This framework attempts to satisfy each land-use water demand with available water supplies—that is, groundwater uptake, precipitation, and irrigation. An option provided in MF-OWHM2 is to automatically increase groundwater pumping for irrigation, which often is unknown, by the calculated residual between demand and the other available sources of supply. From large- to small-scale applications, the physically based supply and demand framework provides key capabilities for simulating and analyzing historical, current, and future conjunctive-use of surface water and groundwater.

To achieve the physically based supply and demand framework, the MODFLOW-2005 standard of no inter-package and -process communication was relaxed for MF-OWHM2. Traditional MODFLOW simulation models required that all packages and processes interact through the groundwater-flow equation or by removing the water flow from the simulation domain. For example, the MODFLOW-2005 representation of a groundwater well extracts water from the groundwater-flow equation (by subtraction) and removes it from the simulation domain. This feature is available in the MF-OWHM framework, but options have been added to allow the specification of a use or destination of pumped groundwater within the model domain, for example, it can be used for irrigation, managed aquifer recharge, or return-flow to streams.

Suggested Citation

Boyce, S.E., Hanson, R.T., Ferguson, I., Schmid, W., Henson, W., Reimann, T., Mehl, S.M., and Earll, M.M., 2020, One-Water Hydrologic Flow Model: A MODFLOW based conjunctive-use simulation software: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods 6–A60, 435 p.,

ISSN: 2328-7055 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Integrated Hydrologic Modeling
  • Supply and Demand Framework
  • Self-Updating Model Structure
  • Fundamental MODFLOW Improvements
  • Landscape Features—Farm Process (FMP)
  • Conduit Flow Process (CFP)
  • MF-OWHM2 Example Problem
  • Limitations and Future Improvements
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • References Cited
  • Appendixes
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title One-Water Hydrologic Flow Model: A MODFLOW based conjunctive-use simulation software
Series title Techniques and Methods
Series number 6-A60
DOI 10.3133/tm6A60
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description Report: xvii, 435 p.; Application Site
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details