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Scientific Investigations Report 2004–5237

Conceptual Model and Numerical Simulation of the Ground-Water-Flow System in the Unconsolidated Deposits of the Colville River Watershed, Stevens County, Washington

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Increased use of ground- and surface-water supplies in watersheds of Washington State in recent years has created concern that insufficient instream flows remain for fish and other uses. Issuance of new ground-water rights in the Colville River Watershed was halted by the Washington Department of Ecology due to possible hydraulic continuity of the ground and surface waters. A ground-water-flow model was developed to aid in the understanding of the ground-water system and the regional effects of ground-water development alternatives on the water resources of the Colville River Watershed.

The Colville River Watershed is underlain by unconsolidated deposits of glacial and non-glacial origin. The surficial geologic units and the deposits at depth were differentiated into aquifers and confining units on the basis of areal extent and general water-bearing characteristics. Five principal hydrogeologic units are recognized in the study area and form the basis of the ground-water-flow model.

A steady-state ground-water-flow model of the Colville River Watershed was developed to simulate September 2001 conditions. The simulation period represented a period of below-average precipitation. The model was calibrated using nonlinear regression to minimize the weighted differences or residuals between simulated and measured hydraulic head and stream discharge.

Simulated inflow to the model area was 53,000 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr) from precipitation and secondary recharge, and 36,000 acre-ft/yr from stream and lake leakage. Simulated outflow from the model was primarily through discharge to streams and lakes (71,000 acre-ft/yr), ground-water outflow (9,000 acre-ft/yr), and ground-water withdrawals (9,000 acre-ft/yr). Because the period of simulation, September 2001, was extremely dry, all components of the ground-water budget are presumably less than average flow conditions.

The calibrated model was used to simulate the possible effects of increased ground-water pumping. Although the steady-state model cannot be used to predict how long it would take for effects to occur, it does simulate the ultimate response to such changes relative to September 2001 (relatively dry) conditions. Steady-state simulations indicated that increased pumping would result in decreased discharge to streams and lakes and decreased ground-water outflow. The location of the simulated increased ground-water pumping determined the primary source of the water withdrawn. Simulated pumping wells in the northern end of the main Colville River valley diverted a large percentage of the pumpage from ground-water outflow. Simulated pumping wells in the southern end of the main Colville River valley diverted a large percentage of the pumpage from flow to rivers and streams.

The calibrated steady-state model also was used to simulate predevelopment conditions, during which no ground-water pumping, secondary recharge, or irrigation application occurred. Cumulative streamflow in the Colville River Watershed increased by 1.1 cubic feet per second, or about 36 percent of net ground-water pumping in 2001.

The model is intended to simulate the regional ground-water-flow system of the Colville River Watershed and can be used as a tool for water-resource managers to assess the ultimate regional effects of changes in stresses. The regional scale of the model, coupled with relatively sparse data, must be considered when applying the model in areas of poorly understood hydrology, or examining hydrologic conditions at a larger scale than what is appropriate.

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