Journal Article: Impact of model development, calibration and validation decisions on hydrological simulations in West Lake Erie Basin

July 07, 2015

Watershed simulation models are used extensively to investigate hydrologic processes, landuse and climate change impacts, pollutant load assessments and best management practices (BMPs). Developing, calibrating and validating these models require a number of critical decisions that will influence the ability of the model to represent real world conditions. Understanding how these decisions influence model performance is crucial, especially when making science-based policy decisions. This study used the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model in West Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) to examine the influence of several of these decisions on hydrological processes and streamflow simulations. Specifically, this study addressed the following objectives (1) demonstrate the importance of considering intra-watershed processes during model development, (2) compare and evaluated spatial calibration versus calibration at outlet and (3) evaluate parameter transfers across temporal and spatial scales. A coarser resolution (HUC-12) model and a finer resolution model (NHDPlus model) were used to support the objectives. Results showed that knowledge of watershed characteristics and intra-watershed processes are critical to produced accurate and realistic hydrologic simulations. The spatial calibration strategy produced better results compared to outlet calibration strategy and provided more confidence. Transferring parameter values across spatial scales (i.e. from coarser resolution model to finer resolution model) needs additional fine tuning to produce realistic results. Transferring parameters across temporal scales (i.e. from monthly to yearly and daily time-steps) performed well with a similar spatial resolution model. Furthermore, this study shows that relying solely on quantitative statistics without considering additional information can produce good but unrealistic simulations.