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Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5066

Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation

Precipitation and Runoff Simulations of Select Perennial and Ephemeral Watersheds in the Middle Carson River Basin, Eagle, Dayton, and Churchill Valleys, West-Central Nevada

By Anne E. Jeton and Douglas K. Maurer

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (4.8 MB)Abstract

The effect that land use may have on streamflow in the Carson River, and ultimately its impact on downstream users can be evaluated by simulating precipitation-runoff processes and estimating groundwater inflow in the middle Carson River in west-central Nevada. To address these concerns, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, began a study in 2008 to evaluate groundwater flow in the Carson River basin extending from Eagle Valley to Churchill Valley, called the middle Carson River basin in this report. This report documents the development and calibration of 12 watershed models and presents model results and the estimated mean annual water budgets for the modeled watersheds. This part of the larger middle Carson River study will provide estimates of runoff tributary to the Carson River and the potential for groundwater inflow (defined here as that component of recharge derived from percolation of excess water from the soil zone to the groundwater reservoir).

The model used for the study was the U.S. Geological Survey’s Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System, a physically based, distributed-parameter model designed to simulate precipitation and snowmelt runoff as well as snowpack accumulation and snowmelt processes. Models were developed for 2 perennial watersheds in Eagle Valley having gaged daily mean runoff, Ash Canyon Creek and Clear Creek, and for 10 ephemeral watersheds in the Dayton Valley and Churchill Valley hydrologic areas. Model calibration was constrained by daily mean runoff for the 2 perennial watersheds and for the 10 ephemeral watersheds by limited indirect runoff estimates and by mean annual runoff estimates derived from empirical methods. The models were further constrained by limited climate data adjusted for altitude differences using annual precipitation volumes estimated in a previous study. The calibration periods were water years 1980–2007 for Ash Canyon Creek, and water years 1991–2007 for Clear Creek. To allow for water budget comparisons to the ephemeral models, the two perennial models were then run from 1980 to 2007, the time period constrained somewhat by the later record for the high-altitude climate station used in the simulation. The daily mean values of precipitation, runoff, evapotranspiration, and groundwater inflow simulated from the watershed models were summed to provide mean annual rates and volumes derived from each year of the simulation.

Mean annual bias for the calibration period for Ash Canyon Creek and Clear Creek watersheds was within 6 and 3 percent, and relative errors were about 18 and -2 percent, respectively. For the 1980–2007 period of record, mean recharge efficiency and runoff efficiency (percentage of precipitation as groundwater inflow and runoff) averaged 7 and 39 percent, respectively, for Ash Canyon Creek, and 8 and 31 percent, respectively, for Clear Creek. For this same period, groundwater inflow volumes averaged about 500 acre-feet for Ash Canyon and 1,200 acre-feet for Clear Creek. The simulation period for the ephemeral watersheds ranged from water years 1978 to 2007. Mean annual simulated precipitation ranged from 6 to 11 inches. Estimates of recharge efficiency for the ephemeral watersheds ranged from 3 percent for Eureka Canyon to 7 percent for Eldorado Canyon. Runoff efficiency ranged from 7 percent for Eureka Canyon and 15 percent at Brunswick Canyon. For the 1978–2007 period, mean annual groundwater inflow volumes ranged from about 40 acre-feet for Eureka Canyon to just under 5,000 acre-feet for Churchill Canyon watershed. Watershed model results indicate significant interannual variability in the volumes of groundwater inflow caused by climate variations. For most of the modeled watersheds, little to no groundwater inflow was simulated for years with less than 8 inches of precipitation, unless those years were preceded by abnormally high precipitation years with significant subsurface storage carryover.

First posted July 26, 2011

For additional information contact:
Director, Nevada Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
2730 N. Deer Run Road
Carson City, Nevada 89701

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Suggested citation:

Jeton A.E., and Maurer, D.K., 2011, Precipitation and runoff simulations of select perennial and ephemeral watersheds in the middle Carson River basin, Eagle, Dayton, and Churchill Valleys, west-central Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5066, 44 p.




Description of Watershed Models

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

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