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Hydrology of the Upper Colorado River Planning Area - Surface Water

Click to view Figure 4.0-5

Figure 4.0-5 Upper Colorado River USGS Watersheds

(Data source: USGS 2005)

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) divides and subdivides the United States into successively smaller hydrologic units based on hydrologic features.  These units are classified into four levels. From largest to smallest these are: regions, subregions, accounting units and cataloging units.  A hydrologic unit code (HUC) consisting of two digits for each level in the system is used to identify any hydrologic area (Seaber et al., 1987). A 6-digit unit code corresponds to accounting units, which are used by the USGS for designing and managing the National Water Data Network.  One USGS 6-digit HUC watershed is completely within the planning area - Bill Williams.  In addition, there are portions of four others: the Lower Colorado-Lees Ferry to Lake Mead; the Lower Colorado below Lake Mead; the Lower Gila-Agua Fria; and the Verde (Figure 4.0-5).

Lower Colorado- Lees Ferry to Lake Mead Watershed

The Lower Colorado River-Lees Ferry to Lake Mead watershed is located in the Western Plateau Planning Area and in the northern portion of the Upper Colorado River Planning Area.  Included within the Upper Colorado River Planning Area portion of the watershed are the Hualapai Valley and Meadview basins, almost all of the Detrital Valley Basin, all but the far eastern portion of the Peach Springs Basin and the northernmost part of the Big Sandy Basin.

The major north-flowing tributaries to the Colorado River in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area portion of the watershed are Hualapai Wash and Detrital Wash.  These washes are ephemeral and contribute little to the flow of the Colorado River.  The other major wash is Truxton Wash in the Peach Springs and Hualapai Valley basins, which flows north to Red Lake, a dry lake.  The Colorado River is the only perennial water supply in the part of the  watershed in the planning area.  There is only one intermittent stream, a portion of Truxton Wash, located in Peach Springs Basin (AZGF, 1997 & 1993).

Lake Mead, created by Hoover Dam, has affected groundwater conditions in adjacent basins in the watershed.  There is outflow from the lake into the surrounding aquifers.  Lake Mead extends from Hoover Dam in the Lake Mohave Basin, along the planning area boundary to Peach Springs Basin.  Maximum storage in Lake Mead is 29.7 maf.  Of this, approximately 2.38 maf is “dead storage” - the reservoir capacity from which stored water cannot be evacuated by gravity.  The average storage during the period from 1996 to 2005 was 20.3 maf. 

Hulapai Valley Red Lake

Red (Dry) Lake, Hualapai Valley Basin.  The Colorado River is the only perennial water supply in the portion of the Lower Colorado - Lees Ferry to Lake Mead Watershed in this planning Area.

Twenty-four major springs (springs with a measured discharge rate of 10 gpm or greater at any time) are found in the watershed, primarily located in the Peach Springs and Meadview basins. Generally, springs with the greatest discharge are located in the Hualapai Plateau in the Peach Springs Basin, where discharges of 1,730 gpm at Spencer Spring and 1,233 gpm at Meriwhitica Spring have been measured.  With the exception of a number of springs measured in the early 1990s, particularly in the Peach Springs Basin, most of the spring measurements were recorded over 30 years ago and may not reflect current conditions.  For example, recent discharge measurements taken at two “major” springs in the Peach Springs Basin were less than 10 gpm. (See Springs tables in each basin section.)

There is only one streamgage in the watershed at Spencer Creek near Peach Springs.  Median flows at this gage are about 1,500 AFA.

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Davis Dam

Davis Dam, Lake Mohave Basin.  Parker and Davis dams have created lakes that affect groundwater conditions along the Colorado River.

Lower Colorado below Lake Mead Watershed

This watershed covers parts of two planning areas.  The northern portion is within the Upper Colorado River Planning Area (north watershed) and the southern portion is located in the Lower Colorado River Planning Area.  Groundwater basins included in the north watershed are the Lake Havasu Basin and most of the Lake Mohave and Sacramento Valley basins.  A very small portion of Detrital Valley Basin also lies within the north watershed.  Sacramento Wash, an ephemeral wash in the Sacramento Valley Basin, is the only major contributing tributary to the Colorado River in the north watershed.  Sawmill Canyon, located at the northeastern edge of the Sacramento Valley Basin, is the only intermittent stream (Figure 4.9-5).

Parker and Davis dams have created lakes that also affect groundwater conditions along the Colorado River.  Parker Dam is located in the Lower Colorado River Planning area but the lake it creates, Havasu, extends into the Upper Colorado River Planning Area.  Davis Dam, north of Bullhead City, creates Lake Mohave.  There is outflow from the river and lakes into the surrounding aquifers.  Maximum storage in Lake Mohave is about 1.8 maf (including dead storage) and average storage from 1996 to 2005 was 1.65 maf.  Maximum storage in Lake Havasu is 651,000 acre-feet (including dead storage) and average storage from 1996-2005 was about 572,000 acre-feet.

The only streamgages in the north watershed are along the Colorado River.  Streamflow is largely subject to releases from upstream dams.  A gage at Topock reports median annual flow of 8.9 maf, a gage below Davis Dam reports median annual flow of 8.5 maf, and median annual flows below Hoover Dam are 9.2 maf.

Twenty-four major springs are found in the north watershed.  These springs are located in the northern half of the Sacramento Valley Basin and in the Lake Mohave Basin along the Colorado River immediately below Hoover Dam.  Only three of the major springs have had a measured discharge rate of 100 gpm or greater.  There are a relatively large number of minor springs (42) in the Sacramento Valley Basin.  The most recent spring measurements were taken in 1979 and some measurements date to the 1940s.

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Bill Williams Watershed

The Bill Williams watershed has a drainage area of about 5,393 sq. miles (NEMO, 2005).  The watershed drains into Lake Havasu just upstream of Parker Dam near the southern boundary of the planning area.  The greatest elevational range in the planning area, from 8,417 feet at Hualapai Peak to 450 feet north of Parker Dam, is found in the watershed.  The watershed includes the Bill Williams Basin, most of the Big Sandy Basin and the southern portion of the Sacramento Valley Basin.  The watershed is drained by the Bill Williams River and its major tributaries, the Big Sandy and the Santa Maria Rivers and by Burro Creek.  A number of perennial streams exist in the watershed including segments of the Big Sandy River, the Bill Williams River, Burro Creek, Kirkland Creek, Date Creek, the Santa Maria River, and Trout Creek.  Numerous intermittent streams are also present (Figures 4.1-5 and 4.2-5)

Construction of Alamo Dam on the Bill Williams River in 1968 significantly impacted streamflow below the dam. Built as a flood-control structure, the dam is now operated in a manner to benefit downriver wildlife refuges and vegetation along the river.  According to NEMO (2005), 185 miles of perennial streamflow exist in the watershed, mostly restricted to the main stem of the Bill Williams River. Water levels in the Bill Williams River below Alamo Dam are affected by the water levels in Lake Havasu.  Alamo Lake is the largest lake in the watershed with about 13,400 acres of open water surface.  Prior to dam construction the Bill Williams River produced some of the largest floods in Arizona history, with a peak discharge (200,000 ft3/s) comparable to the largest known Colorado River floods (Webb and others, 2007).

Bill Williams River

Bill Williams River near the confluence with the Colorado River, Bill Williams Basin.  Construction of Alamo Dam in 1968 significantly impacted streamflow below the dam.  The dam is now operated in a manner to benefit downriver wildlife refuges and vegetation along the river.

Median annual streamflow in the Bill Williams River below Alamo Dam is about 34,000 acre-feet, but a maximum annual flow of almost 702,000 acre-feet was recorded in 1993.  By comparison, the median annual flow at a gage on the Santa Maria River upstream of the dam is about 10,000 af.  The median annual flow recorded at a gage south of Wikieup on the other major tributary to the Bill Williams River, the Big Sandy River, is about 27,000 af.

Within the watershed, perennial streams originate from spring discharges from crystalline rocks.  Most of the public water supply for the town of Bagdad comes from spring flow that discharges to Francis Creek, a tributary to Burro Creek.  Twelve large springs have been identified in the watershed; the largest is located in the Big Sandy Basin where discharge from an unnamed spring south of Cane Springs measured 1,600 gpm.  The largest spring in the Bill Williams Basin was measured at 228 gpm.  There are no large springs reported in the Sacramento Valley Basin portion of the watershed.  Most springs are located in the vicinity of Valentine, along the Big Sandy River, and near the eastern boundary of the Bill Williams Basin.  All measurements were taken prior to 1980 and some measurements are as old as 1943; therefore, the reported discharges may no longer be representative of current conditions.

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Verde Watershed

A very small portion of this watershed extends into the southeastern portion of the Bill Williams Basin.  There are no major tributaries, perennial or intermittent streams, stream gages or major springs in this area.

Lower Gila-Agua Fria Watershed

A very small portion of this watershed extends into the extreme southeastern portion of the Bill Williams Basin.  There are no major tributaries, perennial or intermittent streams, stream gages or major springs in this area.

 

For more information on surface water in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area see Streams (for surface water conditions) and Springs (for perennial/intermittent streams and springs) in the menu to the right.

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