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Scientific-Investigations Report 2008–5119

In cooperation with the New Mexico Department of Transportation

Analysis of the Magnitude and Frequency of Peak Discharge and Maximum Observed Peak Discharge in New Mexico and Surrounding Areas

By Scott D. Waltemeyer


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Estimates of the magnitude and frequency of peak discharges are necessary for the reliable design of bridges, culverts, and open-channel hydraulic analysis, and for flood-hazard mapping in New Mexico and surrounding areas. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, updated estimates of peak-discharge magnitude for gaging stations in the region and updated regional equations for estimation of peak discharge and frequency at ungaged sites.

Equations were developed for estimating the magnitude of peak discharges for recurrence intervals of 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 years at ungaged sites by use of data collected through 2004 for 293 gaging stations on unregulated streams that have 10 or more years of record.

Peak discharges for selected recurrence intervals were determined at gaging stations by fitting observed data to a log-Pearson Type III distribution with adjustments for a low-discharge threshold and a zero skew coefficient. A low-discharge threshold was applied to frequency analysis of 140 of the 293 gaging stations. This application provides an improved fit of the log-Pearson Type III frequency distribution. Use of the low-discharge threshold generally eliminated the peak discharge by having a recurrence interval of less than 1.4 years in the probability-density function.

Within each of the nine regions, logarithms of the maximum peak discharges for selected recurrence intervals were related to logarithms of basin and climatic characteristics by using stepwise ordinary least-squares regression techniques for exploratory data analysis. Generalized least-squares regression techniques, an improved regression procedure that accounts for time and spatial sampling errors, then were applied to the same data used in the ordinary least-squares regression analyses. The average standard error of prediction, which includes average sampling error and average standard error of regression, ranged from 38 to 93 percent (mean value is 62, and median value is 59) for the 100-year flood. The 1996 investigation standard error of prediction for the flood regions ranged from 41 to 96 percent (mean value is 67, and median value is 68) for the 100-year flood that was analyzed by using generalized least-squares regression analysis. Overall, the equations based on generalized least-squares regression techniques are more reliable than those in the 1996 report because of the increased length of record and improved geographic information system (GIS) method to determine basin and climatic characteristics.

Flood-frequency estimates can be made for ungaged sites upstream or downstream from gaging stations by using a method that transfers flood-frequency data at the gaging station to the ungaged site by using a drainage-area ratio adjustment equation. The peak discharge for a given recurrence interval at the gaging station, drainage-area ratio, and the drainage-area exponent from the regional regression equation of the respective region is used to transfer the peak discharge for the recurrence interval to the ungaged site.

Maximum observed peak discharge as related to drainage area was determined for New Mexico. Extreme events are commonly used in the design and appraisal of bridge crossings and other structures. Bridge-scour evaluations are commonly made by using the 500-year peak discharge for these appraisals. Peak-discharge data collected at 293 gaging stations and 367 miscellaneous sites were used to develop a maximum peak-discharge relation as an alternative method of estimating peak discharge of an extreme event such as a maximum probable flood.

Version 1.0

Posted November 2008

For additional information contact:
Director, New Mexico Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
5338 Montgomery Blvd., NE
Albuquerque, NM 87109-1311

World Wide Web:

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Suggested citation:

Waltemeyer, S.D., 2008, Analysis of the magnitude and frequency of peak discharge and maximum observed peak discharge in New Mexico and surrounding areas: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008–5119, 105 p.




Analysis of Magnitude and Frequency of Peak Discharges

Analysis of Maximum Observed Peak Discharge

Future Data Needs and Network Improvements


References Cited

Appendix 1—Selected Basin, Climatic, and Flood Characteristics; Maximum Peak Discharge Recorded; and Low-Discharge Threshold for Gaging Stations

Appendix 2—Basin and Climatic Characteristics Determined Using Geographical Information System

Appendix 3—Miscellaneous Sites, Maximum Peak Discharge, Drainage Area, and Site Elevations

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