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Base-Flow Characteristics of Streams in the Valley and Ridge, the Blue Ridge, and the Piedmont Physiographic Provinces of Virginia

U.S. Geological Survey, Water Supply Paper 2457

by David L. Nelms, George E. Harlow, Jr., and Donald C. Hayes

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Abstract

Growth within the Valley and Ridge, the Blue Ridge, and the Piedmont Physiographic Provinces of Virginia has focussed concern about allocation of surface-water flow and increased demands on the ground-water resources. The purpose of this report is to (1) describe the base-flow characteristics of streams, (2) identify the regional differences in these flow characteristics, and (3) describe, if possible, the potential surface-water and ground-water yields of basins on the basis of the base-flow characteristics.

Base-flow characteristics are presented for streams in the Valley and Ridge, the Blue Ridge, and the Piedmont Physiographic Provinces of Virginia. The provinces are separated into five regions: (1)Valley and Ridge, (2) Blue Ridge, (3) Piedmont/Blue Ridge transition, (4) Piedmont northern, and (5) Piedmont southern. Different flow statistics, which represent streamflows predominantly comprised of base flow, were determined for 217 continuous-record stream-flow-gaging stations from historical mean daily discharge and for 192 partial-record streamflow gaging stations by means of correlation of discharge measurements. Variability of base flow is represented by a duration ratio developed during this investigation. Effective recharge rates were also calculated.

Median values for the different flow statistics range from 0.05 cubic foot per second per square mile for the 90-percent discharge on the streamflow-duration curve to 0.61 cubic foot per second per square mile for mean base flow. An excellent estimator of mean base flow for the Piedmont/Blue Ridge transition region and Piedmont southern region is the 50-percent discharge on the streamflow-duration curve, but it tends to underestimate mean base flow for the remaining regions. The base-flow variability index ranges from 0.07 to 2.27, with a median value of 0.55. Effective recharge rates range from 0.07 to 33.07 inches per year, with a median value of 8.32 inches per year.

Differences in the base-flow characteristics exist between regions. The median discharges for the Valley and Ridge, the Blue Ridge, and the Piedmont/Blue Ridge transition regions are higher than those for the Piedmont regions. Results from statistical analysis indicate that the regions can be ranked in terms of base-flow characteristics from highest to lowest as follows: (1) Piedmont/Blue Ridge transition, (2) Valley and Ridge and Blue Ridge, (3) Piedmont southern, and (4) Piedmont northern. The flow statistics are consistently higher and the values for base-flow variability are lower for basins within the Piedmont/Blue Ridge transition region relative to those from the other regions, whereas the basins within the Piedmont northern region show the opposite pattern.

The group rankings of the base-flow characteristics were used to designate the potential surface-water yield for the regions. In addition, an approach developed for this investigation assigns a rank for potential surface-water yield to a basin according to the quartiles in which the values for the base-flow characteristics are located. Both procedures indicate that the Valley and Ridge, the Blue Ridge, and the Piedmont/ Blue Ridge transition regions have moderate-to-high potential surface-water yield and the Piedmont regions have low-to-moderate potential surface-water yield.

In order to indicate potential ground-water yield from base-flow characteristics, aquifer properties for 51 streamflow-gaging stations with continuous record of streamflow data were determined by methods that use streamflow records and basin characteristics . Areal diffusivity ranges from 17,100 to 88,400 feet squared per day, with a median value of 38,400 feet squared per day. Areal transmissivity ranges from 63 to 830 feet squared per day, with a median value of 270 feet squared per day. Storage coefficients, which were estimated by dividing areal transmissivity by areal diffusivity, range from approximately 0.001 to 0.019 (dimensionless), with a median value of 0.007.

The median value for areal diffusivity decreases as potential surface-water yield of the basins increases. The ranking of a real diffusivity does not correspond with the ranking of potential surface-water yield for either the regions or the basins. Areal transmissivity generally increases as storage coefficient increases; however, basins with low potential surface-water yield generally have high values of a real transmissivity associated with low values of storage coefficient over a narrow range relative to those from basins designated as having moderate-to-high potential surface-water yield. Although the basins with high potential surface-water yield tend to have comparatively lower values for areal transmissivity, storage coefficients generally are large when compared to those from basins with similar values of a real transmissivity but different potential surface-water yield.

Aquifer properties were grouped by potential surface-water yield and were related to hydro-geologic units categorized by large, medium, and small well yields for the Valley and Ridge Physiographic Province and for the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont Physiographic Provinces. Generally, no trend is evident between areal diffusivity and the hydrogeologic units. Some of the high values of areal diffusivity are associated with basins predominantly underlain by hydrogeologic units with small well yields, especially basins with a low potential surface-water yield. Areal transmissivity and storage coefficient tend to decrease, which is the expected trend, as more of the basin is underlain by the hydrogeologic unit with small well yields in the Valley and Ridge Physiographic Province. A similar trend is indicated for the hydrogeologic unit with medium well yields in the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont Physiographic Provinces . Areal transmissivity and storage coefficient tend to increase, which is not the expected trend, as more of the basin is underlain by the hydrogeologic unit with small well yields in the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont Physiographic Provinces. The base-flow characteristics of a basin may provide a relative indication of the potential ground-water yield; but other factors need to be considered, such as geologic structure, lithology, precipitation, relief, and degree of hydraulic interconnection between the regolith and bedrock.

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