Water Resources of Colorado

Trends in Precipitation and Streamflow and Changes in Stream Morphology in the Fountain Creek Watershed, Colorado, 1939≠99

by Robert W. Stogner, Sr.

Available from the U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services, Box 25286, Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4130, 43 p., 17 fig.

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The Fountain Creek watershed, located in and along the eastern slope of the Front Range section of the southern Rocky Mountains, drains approximately 930 square miles of parts of Teller, El Paso, and Pueblo Counties in eastern Colorado. Streamflow in the watershed is dominated by spring snowmelt runoff and storm runoff during the summer monsoon season. Flooding during the 1990ís has resulted in increased streambank erosion. Property loss and damage associated with flooding and bank erosion has cost area residents, businesses, utilities, municipalities, and State and Federal agencies millions of dollars. Precipitation (4 stations) and streamflow (6 stations) data, aerial photographs, and channel reconnaissance were used to evaluate trends in precipitation and streamflow and changes in channel morphology. Trends were evaluated for pre-1977, post-1976, and period-of-record time periods.

Analysis revealed the lack of trend in total annual and seasonal precipitation during the pre-1977 time period. In general, the analysis also revealed the lack of trend in seasonal precipitation for all except the spring season during the post-1976 time period. Trend analysis revealed a significant upward trend in long-term (period of record) total annual and spring precipitation data, apparently due to a change in total annual precipitation throughout the Fountain Creek watershed. During the pre-1977 time period, precipitation was generally below average; during the post- 1976 time period, total annual precipitation was generally above average. During the post- 1976 time period, an upward trend in total annual and spring precipitation was indicated at two stations. Because two of four stations evaluated had upward trends for the post-1976 period and storms that produce the most precipitation are isolated convection storms, it is plausible that other parts of the watershed had upward precipitation trends that could affect trends in streamflow. Also, because of the isolated nature of convection storms that hit some areas of the watershed and not others, it is difficult to draw strong conclusions on relations between streamflow and precipitation.

Trends in annual instantaneous peak streamflow, 70th percentile, 90th percentile, maximum daily-mean streamflow (100th percentile), 7-, 14-, and 30-day high daily-mean stream- flow duration, minimum daily-mean streamflow (0th percentile), 10th percentile, 30th percentile, and 7-, 14-, 30-day low daily-mean streamflow duration were evaluated. In general, instantaneous peak streamflow has not changed significantly at most of the stations evaluated. Trend analysis revealed the lack of a significant upward trend in streamflow at all stations for the pre-1977 time period. Trend tests indicated a significant upward trend in high and low daily-mean streamflow statistics for the post-1976 period. Upward trends in high daily-mean streamflow statistics may be an indication that changes in land use within the watershed have increased the rate and magnitude of runoff. Upward trends in low daily-mean 2 Trends in Precipitation and Streamflow and Changes in Stream Morphology in the Fountain Creek Watershed, Colorado, 1939≠99 streamflow statistics may be related to changes in water use and management. An analysis of the relation between streamflow and precipitation indicated that changes in water management have had a marked effect on streamflow.

Observable change in channel morphology and changes in distribution and density of vegetation varied with magnitude, duration, and frequency of large streamflow events, and increases in the magnitude and duration of low streamflows. Although more subtle, low stream- flows were an important component of day-to-day channel erosion. Substantial changes in channel morphology were most often associated with infrequent large or catastrophic streamflow events that erode streambed and banks, alter stream course, and deposit large amounts of sediment in the flood plain.

Table of Contents



Purpose and Scope


Description of Study Area and General Land Use


General Precipitation Character

Temporal Trends in Precipitation

Synthesis of Precipitation Analysis


Temporal Trends

Trends in High Streamflow Statistics

Instantaneous Peak Streamflow

High Streamflow Percentiles

Streamflow Duration

Trends in Low Streamflow Statistics

Low Streamflow Percentiles

Streamflow Duration

Spatial Trends

High Streamflow

Low Streamflow

Relation between Precipitation and Streamflow

Synthesis of Streamflow Analysis

Stream Morphology

Generalized Stream Channel Characteristics

Sediment Transport Capacity

Descriptive Assessment of Changes in Channel Morphology

Summary and Conclusions

Selected References

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Water Resources of Colorado

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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