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Continuity vs. the Crowd—Tradeoffs Between Continuous and Intermittent Citizen Hydrology Streamflow Observations

Davids, Jeffrey C., van de Giesen, Nick, Rutten, Martine
Environmental management 2017 v.60 no.1 pp. 12-29
United States Geological Survey, gauges, hydrologic data, monitoring, runoff, statistics, stream flow, watersheds, California
Hydrologic data has traditionally been collected with permanent installations of sophisticated and accurate but expensive monitoring equipment at limited numbers of sites. Consequently, observation frequency and costs are high, but spatial coverage of the data is limited. Citizen Hydrology can possibly overcome these challenges by leveraging easily scaled mobile technology and local residents to collect hydrologic data at many sites. However, understanding of how decreased observational frequency impacts the accuracy of key streamflow statistics such as minimum flow, maximum flow, and runoff is limited. To evaluate this impact, we randomly selected 50 active United States Geological Survey streamflow gauges in California. We used 7 years of historical 15-min flow data from 2008 to 2014 to develop minimum flow, maximum flow, and runoff values for each gauge. To mimic lower frequency Citizen Hydrology observations, we developed a bootstrap randomized subsampling with replacement procedure. We calculated the same statistics, and their respective distributions, from 50 subsample iterations with four different subsampling frequencies ranging from daily to monthly. Minimum flows were estimated within 10% for half of the subsample iterations at 39 (daily) and 23 (monthly) of the 50 sites. However, maximum flows were estimated within 10% at only 7 (daily) and 0 (monthly) sites. Runoff volumes were estimated within 10% for half of the iterations at 44 (daily) and 12 (monthly) sites. Watershed flashiness most strongly impacted accuracy of minimum flow, maximum flow, and runoff estimates from subsampled data. Depending on the questions being asked, lower frequency Citizen Hydrology observations can provide useful hydrologic information.