Proactive modeling of water quality impacts of extreme precipitation events in a drinking water reservoir

Document Type



Published in: Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 201, 2017.


Extreme precipitation events are of concern to managers of drinking water sources because these occurrences can affect both water supply quantity and quality. However, little is known about how these low probability events impact organic matter and nutrient loads to surface water sources and how these loads may impact raw water quality. This study describes a method for evaluating the sensitivity of a water body of interest from watershed input simulations under extreme precipitation events. An example application of the method is illustrated using the Wachusett Reservoir, an oligo-mesotrophic surface water reservoir in central Massachusetts and a major drinking water supply to metropolitan Boston. Extreme precipitation event simulations during the spring and summer resulted in total organic carbon, UV-254 (a surrogate measurement for reactive organic matter), and total algae concentrations at the drinking water intake that exceeded recorded maximums. Nutrient concentrations after storm events were less likely to exceed recorded historical maximums. For this particular reservoir, increasing inter-reservoir transfers of water with lower organic matter content after a large precipitation event has been shown in practice and in model simulations to decrease organic matter levels at the drinking water intake, therefore decreasing treatment associated oxidant demand, energy for UV disinfection, and the potential for formation of disinfection byproducts.