2016 Progress Report: Prediction of Nonlinear Climate Variations Impacts on Eutrophication and Ecosystem Processes and Evaluation of Adaptation Measures in Urban and Urbanizing Watersheds

EPA Grant Number: R835866
Title: Prediction of Nonlinear Climate Variations Impacts on Eutrophication and Ecosystem Processes and Evaluation of Adaptation Measures in Urban and Urbanizing Watersheds
Investigators: Barber, Michael , Burian, Steven , Clark, Brett , Goel, Ramesh , Hinners, Sarah
Institution: University of Utah
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2018 (Extended to August 31, 2020)
Project Period Covered by this Report: September 1, 2015 through August 31,2016
Project Amount: $1,250,000
RFA: National Priorities: Systems-Based Strategies to Improve The Nation’s Ability to Plan And Respond to Water Scarcity and Drought Due to Climate Change (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water


The Jordan River (shown in Figure 1) experiences many of the water quality concerns shared by urban streams throughout the western United States. The recent U.S. EPA-approved TMDL of the river identified issues including problems with total dissolved solids, temperature, E Coli, and dissolved oxygen (DO). While it is recognized that these quantity and quality issues are related, holistic basin-wide solutions are missing. TMDL and associated water quality investigations have subdivided the watershed such that the Provo River is analyzed separately from Utah Lake, the Jordan River, or even the other upstream tributaries. Droughts, changes in snow melt timing, and extreme events induced by climate change and the implications of land use changes due to population and economic growth are not explicitly factored into the solution schemes. In other words, some of the most important natural and human dimensions influencing these ecosystems are missing. Thus proposed solutions are likely to be inadequate with respect to the magnitudes of the problem and they often pit upstream users against downstream interests rather than address the challenges in an integrated fashion.

To meet U.S. EPA program goals, this project was specifically designed to investigate the direct and secondary interrelated impacts of climate change (including extreme events) on surface and groundwater water quality and availability in the Jordan River watershed for the protection of human and ecosystem health, and develop innovative, cost-effective management options that address these impacts. The following specific objectives will be addressed:

1)      Develop a dynamic water quantity/quality model of the Jordan River watershed using the Storm Water management Model (SWMM), Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model (DHSVM), Environmental Fluid Dynamics Code (EFDC), and Water Quality Analysis Simulation Program (WASP).

2)      Link the process-based model of the Jordan River watershed to a system dynamics model of the integrated urban water system for the Salt Lake City metropolitan area.

3)      Integrate each of the four AR5 climate projections into prediction of 2050 water quantity and quality baseline scenarios.

4)      Conduct field and laboratory analysis to parameterize kinetic coefficients and determine non-linear responses under climate scenarios.

5)      Examine land use planning implications including scale-related phenomenon related to headwater versus downstream economic, social, and ecosystem constraints.

6)      Hold participatory stakeholder workshops to develop future scenarios related to conservation, reuse, land use changes due to population, BMP/LID implementation, wildfire disturbances, and water management.

7)      Use models to examine impacts of scenarios and levels of investments needed to achieve a sustainable environment for economic and ecosystem protection.

8)      Create a framework for maximizing value of BMP placement through off-site investment to achieve water quantity and quality goals.

9)      Incorporate findings into classroom instruction to help prepare the future workforce in thinking holistically to solve tomorrow’s challenges.

  The expected outcomes of this project include:

a.       A dynamic tool capable of accurately predicting the appropriate numeric nutrient criteria for the Jordan River and Utah Lake necessary to prevent eutrophication under existing and future climate conditions.

b.      An integrated process-systems model capable of coupling detailed watershed-water quality dynamics (the process model) with planning, policy, people, and interconnected systems such as water supply and water demand (the systems model).

c.       At least three peer-reviewed journal papers in engineering, ecology, planning, and sociology related venues.

d.      Two public workshops to Jordan River stakeholders and other public outreach activities such as community seminars and K-12 education.

e.       Revised curriculum contents integrating interdisciplinary research approaches and findings into case studies designed to expand the envelope of creative thinking.

We will continue to work closely with stakeholders across a broad spectrum to develop a comprehensive management tool that can evaluate water management strategies for the entire Jordan River watershed. Implementation of this comprehensive approach will guarantee scientifically defensible solutions that incorporate social and ecosystem needs and lead to a sustainable future.

Additionally, our modeling framework will be used to demonstrate locally that comprehensive regional solutions will be more beneficial than solutions that pit upstream and downstream communities against each other or that divide the stakeholder groups along narrow boundaries of special interest. It will illustrate how innovative community planning facilitates environmentally sustainable change. We also will demonstrate the utility of the model for urbanizing areas throughout the country.


Figure 1. Study Watershed

Figure 1. Study Watershed

Progress Summary:

Objectives 1 and 2: Process Models for Utah Lake and Jordan River

Several of the primary project objectives are to create a process-based modeling framework by developing a dynamic water quantity/quality model of Jordan River watershed using SWMM, DHSVM, EFDC, and WASP and linking the process-based model of the Jordan River watershed to a system dynamics model of the integrated urban water system for the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. Preliminary tasks for model development are in progress, include data accumulation from a number of agencies, facilities, and researchers as well as review of scientific literature. As part of this accumulation, data that have been obtained have begun the quality control and formatting process, and are currently being organized within file databases and GIS databases. This process of data review has aided in identifying additional data needs (such as higher frequency measurements of water quality data near wastewater outflows), and the appropriate agencies have been contacted in order to obtain these data.

Process-based Modeling Progress

The one-dimensional EPA-approved Qual2K TMDL model for the main Jordan River stem, has been obtained from the Utah Division of Water Quality. This model has been used as a foundation for the development of the steady-state model in the Water Quality Assessment Simulation Program (WASP) that reproduces similar results as those from the Qual2K TMDL model for the Jordan River, but within a more robust modeling framework. This WASP modeling software was developed by the EPA, and allows two-dimensional simulations. The Jordan River WASP model currently is being developed based on the two scenarios that were defined for the TMDL model: 1) A February 2007 scenario that serves as the “base case” for validation of the TMDL model, and 2) An August 2009 scenario that serves as an event of interest, as this period exhibits conditions of “low flow” and elevated temperatures. The WASP model represents similar characteristics of the EPA-approved Qual2K model, which divides the Jordan River into 166 segments, with the most upstream segment as the effluent of Utah Lake. Flow characteristics for all the segments currently are being implemented for each of the scenarios (February 2007 and August 2009), incorporating additional flow into each segment due to contribution from subsurface water processes (e.g., groundwater) similar to the features of this additional flow applied in the Qual2K TMDL models. Due to the basic characteristics of the WASP model, flows have been specified along the 166 segments to avoid any possible volume imbalances at a single segment, which instigates numerical instabilities for simulating the models in WASP.

Systems Modeling Progress

The systems model of the urban area has been expanded and updated to include all of the municipalities and wastewater treatment facilities along the Jordan River. Assumptions for inputs including the urban/irrigation demands that drive the water system model have been documented. A preliminary urban stormwater model has been created and needs to be calibrated for the watersheds contributing to the Jordan River.

Objective 3: Integration of AR5 into 2050 Quantity and Quality Baseline Predictions

This task was scheduled to start in the fourth quarter of Year 1 but has been delayed until Year 2. We have hired a graduate student who is expected to start working on this project component starting in January 2017. We also are in the process of scheduling a meeting with the Utah Reclamation Mitigation & Conservation Commission to discuss how their projects on the lower Provo River will affect flow and water quality conditions in Utah Lake.

Objective 4: Field and Laboratory Measurements of Kinetic Coefficients

To address this objective, we started to develop, perform, and test methods to measure the various water quality parameters. We have collected water samples following the Department of Water Quality (DWQ) 2011 Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the months of May–August 2016. We sampled a total of five sites in each of the 4 months. 

Objective 5: Examination of Land Use Planning Decisions

To begin this objective, we hired a Masters student research assistant, Richard Decker, to explore ways to connect planning scenario data (population, employment, land use) with the rest of the integrated model. The connecting point is the SWMM model being used for urban areas in the watershed. Key inputs to SWMM include percent impervious and a roughness coefficient. Several tools already exist to translate population density to impervious fraction. Richard currently is developing coefficients for our region using ISAT (Impervious Surface Analysis Tool), developed by NOAA (https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/tools/isat.html).

A second Masters student research assistant (funded by the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning), Kate Morrell, has been working on translating land use and land cover classifications associated with urban development into roughness coefficient inputs to the SWMM model.

We also have established a working relationship with Wasatch Front Regional Council, the Metropolitan Planning Organization that coordinates transportation and land-use planning for the five counties of the Wasatch Front north of Utah County. WFRC carries out scenario planning with input from all counties and municipalities within its planning area (which covers the northern portion of our watershed), and works closely with Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG), the MPO that covers the southern portion of our watershed study area. We have acquired output data for a baseline (“business-as-usual”) scenario for the year 2050 from WFRC to develop and test our capacity to translate between urban growth-related data and land cover parameters in the model.

Objective 6: Development of Future Scenarios via Public Involvement

Continued dialog between stakeholders and university researchers is essential in helping develop confidence in the modeling approach and ensuring that model outputs represent future land use development scenarios. Through cooperation with the Utah Department of Water Quality (UDWQ), we leveraged their contacts to hold an initial meeting to discuss the goals of our project, determine what other data sets might be available, and begin the long-term planning process. In addition to University of Utah faculty and students, Table 1 lists other people in attendance. Several others participated via telephone.  

Objective 7: Evaluation of Alternative and Complementary Scenarios

This work is not scheduled to start yet.

Objective 8: BMP/LID Prioritization Model Framework for Supply and Protection

This work is not scheduled to start yet.

Objective 9: Development of Classroom Materials

Water Quality Modeling will be offered in the Spring 2017 semester. Information collected will be used to develop case studies for this class.     

Future Activities:

Future Work: Process-based Modeling

Point sources and kinetic coefficients, along with several water quality coefficients including those for phytoplankton, which were implemented in the Qual2K TMDL model will be input into the WASP model for each of the February 2007 and August 2009 scenarios. Once all the specified inputs in the TMDL models for the Jordan River have been implemented into the steady-state models in WASP, each of these WASP models then will be simulated over the time period of interest (February 2007 and August 2009). Resulting outputs for the concentrations of different water quality constituents will be compared to the results obtained from simulating the Qual2K TMDL models. If these results appear similar, then further analysis will be implemented for developing characteristics for enhancing the steady-state models in WASP from the EPA-approved TMDL models, incorporating water quality time-series data from several sites (e.g., wastewater treatment plants, canals, etc.) obtained for members involved in the Water Quality Study project on the Jordan River/Utah Lake. Additional tasks that are considered for potential enhancements to the developed WASP model include:

1. Improving the numerical implementation (e.g., improvements upon the time step, the discretization methods, such as changing the traditional Euler Explicit Method to a second-order Runge-Kutta Method or the Heun’s Predictor-Corrector Method, etc.) for some of the fundamental equations applied in WASP, such as the mass balance (e.g., advection-diffusion equation) equations, continuity equations.

2. Remediating the current flow problem in WASP to determine if WASP can be systematic in specifying the flow paths (instead of the user having to specifically apply several flow functions at each segment to avoid possible volume imbalance).

3. Determining possible methods for allowing several kinetic and water quality coefficients (e.g., algal coefficients, etc.) to be varying over time rather than appearing as a “coefficient” (e.g., constant) over an entire segment or entire system.

4. Collaborating with students of Dr. Goel’s group involved in the EPA project to determine if WASP can be improved for incorporating several underlying environmental processes to have the model appear possibly “more representative” of the Jordan River system as a whole.

Future Work: Systems Modeling

Future modeling tasks for the upcoming reporting period for the contributing urban and irrigation areas that are represented through the systems model include: obtaining streamflow data for the calibration and validation of the urban stormwater processes, determining appropriate land-use characteristics for future scenarios, and adding wastewater treatment loading information to the urban systems model. These tasks are integral for obtaining inputs for either internal processes (such as stormwater runoff) or for the process-based WASP model of the Jordan River at the respective reaches, as represented in the simplified schematic in Figure 2.

Future Work: Field and Laboratory Measurements

Future work includes developing further methods related to the parameters. Most of the field and laboratory will be defined by the modeling needs. We will develop a detailed method for algae and cyanobacteria speciation in water samples. Also, we will test and run nutrient limitation tests. We also are working on phosphorus speciation in benthic sediments, as well as methods to speculate the biodegradable organic carbon, biodegradable organic nitrogen, and biodegradable organic phosphorus. Lastly, a method to measure the bioavailability of phosphorus in water is under development.

Figure 2. Schematic of Systems Model and link to Process-based Model.


Nubel U, Garcia-Pichel F, Muyzer G. PCR primers to amplify 16S rRNA genes from cyanobacteria. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 1997;63(8):3327-3332.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 9 publications for this project

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2017 Progress Report
  • 2018 Progress Report