Application of SWAT model to assess snowpack development and streamflow in the Cannonsville watershed, New York, USA



Snow is an important component of the water resources of New York State and the watersheds and reservoirs of New York City (NYC) water supply. In many of the NYC water supply watersheds the hydrologic regimes of high-elevation headwaters are linked to streamflow and channel processes in low-elevation stream reaches that serve as inputs to water supply reservoirs. To better simulate this linkage there is a need to understand spatial variations in snowpack and snowmelt. Snowmelt hydrology is an important component of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model in watersheds where spring runoff is strongly affected by melting snow. This study compares model simulated snowpack and snowmelt at different elevation bands with snow survey data available for the Cannonsville reservoir watershed. Simulations examine the effects of parameterising the SWAT snowmelt sub-model using 1, 3, and 5 elevation bands by comparison with measured snow and streamflow. Comparison between measured and simulated snowpack produced correlation coefficients ranging from 0·35 to 0·85. Simulations of both daily and seasonal streamflow, improved when using 3 elevation bands with r2 of 0·73 and ENS of 0·72. Streamflow simulations showed slightly lower model performance when basin elevation was assumed to be equal to snow survey site elevation, due to the snow survey sites being somewhat biased toward lower elevations. The effect of climate change was also evaluated and showed that under higher air temperatures in future climate change scenarios, SWAT indicated more precipitation falling as rain, increased and earlier snowmelt, and a reduced snowpack leading to a change in the pattern of streamflow, particularly during winter and early spring. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.