Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Civil Engineering

Major Professor

Ross, Mark A.

Co-Major Professor

Stewart, Mark T.


keywords: baseflow, hysep, specific conductance, pinder and jones, streamflow


Analytical baseflow separation techniques such as those used in the automated hydrograph separation program HYSEP rely on a single input parameter that defines the period of time after which surface runoff ceases and all streamflow is considered baseflow. In HYSEP, this input parameter is solely a function of drainage basin contributing area. This method cannot be applied universally since in most regions the time of surface runoff cessation is a function of a number of different hydrologic and hydrogeologic basin characteristics, not just contributing drainage area. This study demonstrates that streamflow conductivity can be used as a natural tracer that integrates the different hydrologic and hydrogeologic basin characteristics that influence baseflow response. Used as an indicator of baseflow as a component of total flow, streamflow conductivity allows for an empirical approach to hydrograph separation using a simple mass balance algorithm.

Although conductivity values for surface-water runoff and ground-water baseflow must be identified to apply this mass balance algorithm, field studies show that assumptions based on streamflow at low flow and high flow conditions are valid for estimating these end member conductivities. The only data required to apply the mass balance algorithm are streamflow conductivity and discharge measurements. Using minimal data requirements, empirical hydrograph separation techniques can be applied that yield reasonable estimates of baseflow. This procedure was performed on data from 10 USGS gaging stations for which reliable, real-time conductivity data are available. Comparison of empirical hydrograph separations using streamflow conductivity data with analytical hydrograph separations demonstrates that uncalibrated, graphical estimation of baseflow can lead to substantial errors in baseflow estimates.

Results from empirical separations can be used to calibrate the runoff cessation input parameter used in analytical separation for each gaging station. In general, collection of stream conductivity data at gaging stations is relatively recent, while discharge measurements may extend many decades into the past. Results demonstrate that conductivity data available for a relatively short period of record can be used to calibrate the runoff cessation input parameter used for analytical separation. The calibrated analytical method can then be applied over a much longer period record since discharge data are the only requirement.