US Geological Survey


Date of this Version

April 2008


Published in J. Environ. Qual. 37:1010–1023 (2008).


Estimates of streambed water fl ux are needed for the interpretation of streambed chemistry and reactions. Continuous temperature and head monitoring in stream reaches within four agricultural watersheds (Leary Weber Ditch, IN; Maple Creek, NE; DR2 Drain, WA; and Merced River, CA) allowed heat to be used as a tracer to study the temporal and spatial variability of fluxes through the streambed. Synoptic methods (seepage meter and differential discharge measurements) were compared with estimates obtained by using heat as a tracer. Water flux was estimated by modeling one-dimensional vertical flow of water and heat using the model VS2DH. Flux was influenced by physical heterogeneity of the stream channel and temporal variability in stream and ground-water levels. During most of the study period (April–December 2004), flux was upward through the streambeds. At the IN, NE, and CA sites, high-stage events resulted in rapid reversal of flow direction inducing short-term surface-water flow into the streambed. During late summer at the IN site, regional ground-water levels dropped, leading to surface-water loss to ground water that resulted in drying of the ditch. Synoptic measurements of flux generally supported the model flux estimates. Water flow through the streambed was roughly an order of magnitude larger in the humid basins (IN and NE) than in the arid basins (WA and CA). Downward flux, in response to sudden high streamflows, and seasonal variability in flux was most pronounced in the humid basins and in high conductivity zones in the streambed.