TMDLS: Statistical Correlations or Mechanistic Modeling?

Scott A. Wells, Portland State University
Thomas M. Cole, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center

Author's version of a paper that was delivered at the National TMDL Science and Policy Conference, Phoenix, AZ, November 13-16, 2002, and subsequently published in its proceedings.


Western Idaho and Eastern Oregon, determinations of the assimilative capacity of the system and the impact of pollutant reduction strategies has been performed using both a statistical-correlation approach and a mechanistic modeling approach. The system included the Lower Snake River, Brownlee Reservoir, Oxbow Reservoir, and Hells Canyon Reservoir with the focus was on Brownlee Reservoir.

The statistical approach used on Brownlee Reservoir divided the system into riverine and lacustrine zones. Field data were then averaged over season and location to provide statistical correlations, such as between total phosphorus (TP) and chlorophyll a (chl a), between an anoxic factor (AF) and TP, and between a hypoxic factor (HP) and TP. The anoxic factor is defined as the number of days when dissolved oxygen was less than 2 mg/l and the hypoxic factor was defined as the number of days when dissolved oxygen was less than 6.5 mg/l.

The mechanistic approach used a two-dimensional, unsteady, hydrodynamic and water quality model called CE-QUAL-W2. The model was calibrated to field data over a three year period for 1992 (a low flow year), 1995 (an average flow year), and 1997 (a high flow year).

Some of the important questions that the TMDL process was to answer included the following. What level of TP is necessary in the river coming into Brownlee Reservoir to reduce the number of days of hypoxia in the reservoir? What are the causes of low2 dissolved oxygen in Brownlee Reservoir and what management strategies can be implemented to improve water quality?

This paper examines the strengths and weaknesses of answering management questions using these two approaches. Recommendations are suggested for answering assimilative capacity questions that arise in TMDL studies.