A Complex, Linked Watershed-Reservoir Hydrology and Water Quality Model Application for the Occoquan Watershed, Virginia

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


The Occoquan Watershed is a 1515 square kilometer basin located in northern Virginia and contains two principal waterbodies: the Occoquan Reservoir and Lake Manassas. Both waterbodies are principal drinking water supplies for local residents and experience eutrophication and summer algae growth. They are continuously threatened by new development from the rapid expansion of the greater Washington D.C. region. The Occoquan model, consisting of six HSPF and two CE-QUAL-W2 submodels linked in a complex way, has been developed and applied to simulate hydrology and water quality activities in the two major reservoirs and the associated drainage areas. The studied water quality constituents include temperature, dissolved oxygen, ammonium nitrogen, oxidized nitrogen, orthophosphate phosphorus, and algae. The calibration of the linked model is for the years 1993-95, with a validation period of 1996-97. The results show that a successful calibration can be achieved using the linked approach, with moderate additional effort. The spatial and temporal distribution of hydrology processes, nutrient detachment and transport, stream temperature and dissolved oxygen were well reproduced by HSPF submodels. By using the outputs generated by HSPF submodels, the CE-QUAL-W2 submodels adequately captured the water budgets, hydrodynamics, temperature, temporal and spatial distribution of dissolved oxygen, ammonium nitrogen, oxidized nitrogen, orthophosphate phosphorus, and algae in Lake Manassas and Occoquan Reservoir. This demonstrates the validity of linking two types of state of the art water quality models: the watershed model HSPF and the reservoir model CE-QUAL-W2.

One of the advantages of the linked model approach is to develop a direct cause and effect relationship between upstream activities and downstream water quality. Therefore, scenarios of various land use proposals, BMP implementation, and point source management can be incorporated into HSPF applications, so that the CE-QUAL-W2 submodels can use the boundary conditions corresponding with these scenarios to predict the water quality variations in the receiving waterbodies. In this research, two land use scenarios were developed. One represented the background condition assuming all the land covered by forest and the other represented the environmental stress posed by future commercial and residential expansion. The results confirm the increases of external nutrient loads due to urbanization and other human activities, which eventually lead to nutrient enrichment and enhanced algae growth in the receiving waterbodies. The increases of external nutrient loads depend on land use patterns and are not evenly spread across the watershed. The future development in the non urban areas will greatly increase the external nutrient production and BMPs should be implemented to reduce the potential environmental degradation. For the existing urban areas, the model results suggest a potential threshold of nutrient production despite future land development. The model results also demonstrate the catchment function of Lake Manassas in reducing nutrient transport downstream.



Hydrological models, Linked models, HSPF, CE-QUAL-W2, Water quality models