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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 13, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 2055–2068, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 2055–2068, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  04 Nov 2009

04 Nov 2009

Comparison of different base flow separation methods in a lowland catchment

A. L. Gonzales1, J. Nonner1, J. Heijkers2, and S. Uhlenbrook1,3 A. L. Gonzales et al.
  • 1UNESCO-IHE, Department of water engineering, P.O. Box 3015, 2601 DA Delft, The Netherlands
  • 2Hoogheemraadschap de Stichtse Rijnlanden – HDSR, P.O. Box 550, 3990 GJ Houten, The Netherlands
  • 3Delft University of Technology, Water Resources Section, P.O. Box 5048, 2600 GA Delft, The Netherlands

Abstract. Assessment of water resources available in different storages and moving along different pathways in a catchment is important for its optimal use and protection, and also for the prediction of floods and low flows. Moreover, understanding of the runoff generation processes is essential for assessing the impacts of climate and land use changes on the hydrological response of a catchment. Many methods for base flow separation exist, but hardly one focuses on the specific behaviour of temperate lowland areas. This paper presents the results of a base flow separation study carried out in a lowland area in the Netherlands. In this study, field observations of precipitation, groundwater and surface water levels and discharges, together with tracer analysis are used to understand the runoff generation processes in the catchment. Several tracer and non-tracer based base flow separation methods were applied to the discharge time series, and their results are compared.

The results show that groundwater levels react fast to precipitation events in this lowland area with shallow groundwater tables. Moreover, a good correlation was found between groundwater levels and discharges suggesting that most of the measured discharge also during floods comes from groundwater storage. It was estimated using tracer hydrological approaches that approximately 90% of the total discharge is groundwater displaced by event water mainly infiltrating in the northern part of the catchment, and only the remaining 10% is surface runoff. The impact of remote recharge causing displacement of near channel groundwater during floods could also be motivated with hydraulic approximations. The results show further that when base flow separation is meant to identify groundwater contributions to stream flow, process based methods (e.g. the rating curve method; Kliner and Knezek, 1974) are more reliable than other simple non-tracer based methods. Also, the recursive filtering method (proposed by Eckhardt, 2005) can be calibrated well using the results of tracer investigation giving good results. Consequently, non-tracer based base flow separation methods that can be validated for some events may provide a powerful tool for groundwater assessment or model calibration/validation in lowland areas.

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