Surface water balance to evaluate the hydrological impacts of small instream diversions and application to the Russian River basin, California, USA



  • 1.Small streams are increasingly under pressure to meet water needs associated with expanding human development, but the hydrologic and ecological effects are not commonly described in scientific literature.
  • 2.To evaluate the potential effects that surface water abstraction can have on flow regime, scientists and resource managers require tools that compare abstraction to stream flow at ecologically relevant time scales.
  • 3.The classic water balance model was adapted to evaluate how small instream diversions can affect catchment stream-flow; the adapted model maintains the basic mass balance concept, but limits the parameters and considers surface water data at an appropriate timescale.
  • 4.This surface water balance was applied to 20 Russian River tributaries in north-central California to evaluate how recognized diversions can affect stream flow throughout the region.
  • 5.The model indicates that existing diversions have little capacity to influence peak or base flows during the rainy winter season, but may reduce stream flow during spring by 20% in one-third of all the study streams; and have the potential to accelerate summer intermittence in 80% of the streams included in this study.
  • 6.The surface water balance model may be especially useful for guiding river restoration from a hydrologic perspective: it can distinguish among streams with high diversion regimes that may require more than just physical channel restoration to provide ecological benefits, and can illustrate the extent to which changing the diversion parameters of particular water users can affect the persistence of a natural flow regime.
  • 7.As applied to Russian River tributaries, the surface water balances suggest that reducing demand for stream flow in summer may be as important as physical channel restoration to restoring anadromous salmonids in this region.

Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.