Ecologically-focused Calibration of Hydrological Models for Environmental Flow Applications

Tuesday, 15 December 2015: 09:45
3020 (Moscone West)
Stephen K Adams, Colorado State University, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Fort Collins, CO, United States and Brian P Bledsoe, Colorado State University, Ft Collins, CO, United States
Hydrologic alteration resulting from watershed urbanization is a common cause of aquatic ecosystem degradation. Developing environmental flow criteria for urbanizing watersheds requires quantitative flow-ecology relationships that describe biological responses to streamflow alteration. Ideally, gaged flow data are used to develop flow-ecology relationships; however, biological monitoring sites are frequently ungaged. For these ungaged locations, hydrologic models must be used to predict streamflow characteristics through calibration and testing at gaged sites, followed by extrapolation to ungaged sites. Physically-based modeling of rainfall-runoff response has frequently utilized “best overall fit” calibration criteria, such as the Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency (NSE), that do not necessarily focus on specific aspects of the flow regime relevant to biota of interest. This study investigates the utility of employing flow characteristics known a priori to influence regional biological endpoints as “ecologically-focused” calibration criteria compared to traditional, “best overall fit” criteria. For this study, 19 continuous HEC-HMS 4.0 models were created in coastal southern California and calibrated to hourly USGS streamflow gages with nearby biological monitoring sites using one “best overall fit” and three “ecologically-focused” criteria: NSE, Richards-Baker Flashiness Index (RBI), percent of time when the flow is < 1 cfs (%<1), and a Combined Calibration (RBI and %<1). Calibrated models were compared using calibration accuracy, environmental flow metric reproducibility, and the strength of flow-ecology relationships. Results indicate that “ecologically-focused” criteria can be calibrated with high accuracy and may provide stronger flow-ecology relationships than “best overall fit” criteria, especially when multiple “ecologically-focused” criteria are used in concert, despite inabilities to accurately reproduce additional types of ecological flow metrics to which the models are not explicitly calibrated.