Hydraulic conductivity is a measure of the ability of a fluid to flow through a porous medium and is determined by the size and shape of the pore spaces in the medium and their degree of interconnection and also by the viscosity of the fluid. Hydraulic conductivity can be expressed as the volume of fluid that will move in unit time under a unit hydraulic gradient through a unit area measured at right angles to the direction of flow. Stream flow and groundwater flow If the unsaturated zone of the soil is uniformly permeable, most of the infiltrated water percolates vertically. Infiltrated water that reaches the ground water reserve raises the water table. This creates a difference in potential and the inclination of the water table defines the variation of the piezometric head in horizontal direction. This difference in energy drives the ground water from the higher to the lower head and some of it ultimately reaches the stream flowing through the valley. This contribution of the stream flow is known as Base flow, which usually is the source of dry-weather flow in perennial streams. During a storm event, the overland flow contributes most of the immediate flow of the stream. The total flow of the stream, however, is the sum ofoverland flow, interflow and base flow. It must be remembered that the rates at which these three components of runoff move varies widely. Stream flow moves fastest, followed by interflow and then ground water flow, which may take months and sometimes even years to reach the stream. Note that for some streams, the water table lies quite some distance below the bottom of the stream. For these streams, there is a loss of water from the river bed percolating into the ground ultimately reaching the water table. The reason for a low water table could possibly be due to natural geographic conditions, or a dry climate, or due to heavy pumping of water in a nearby area. The hydrograph and hyetograph As the name implies, Hydrograph is the plot of the stream flow at a particular location as a function of time. Although the flow comprises of the contributions from overland flow, interflow and groundwater flow, it is useful to separate only the groundwater flow (the base flow) for hydrograph analysis, which is discussed in Lesson 2.3. In Lesson 2.1, precipitation was discussed. The hyetograph is the graphical plot of the rainfall plotted against time. Traditionally, the hyetograph is plotted upside down as shown in Figure 3, which also shows a typical hydrograph and its components. Splitting up of a complete stream flow hydrograph into its components requires the knowledge of the geology of the area and of the factors like surface slope, etc. Nevertheless, some of the simpler methods to separate base flow are described subsequently.
The combined hydrograph can be split up into two parts: The base flow (Figure 4) and the overland flow added to interflow (Figure 5)
Effective rainfall A part of the rainfall reaching the earth’s surface infiltrates into the ground and finally joins the ground water reservoirs or moves laterally as interflow. Of the interflow, only the quick response or prompt interflow contributes to the immediate rise of the stream flow hydrograph. Hence, the rainfall component causing perceptible change in the stream flow is only a portion of the total rainfall recorded over the catchment. This rainfall is called the effective rainfall. The infiltration capacity varies from soil to soil and is also different for the same soil in its moist and dry states. If a soil is initially dry, the infiltration rate (or the infiltration capacity of the soil) is high. If the precipitation is lower than the infiltration capacity of the soil, there will be no overland flow, though interflow may still occur. As the rainfall persists, the soil become moist and infiltration rate decreases, causing the balance precipitation to produce surface runoff. Mathematical representation of the infiltration capacity and the methods to deduct infiltration for finding effective rainfall is described later in this lesson.
Methods of base flow separation Consider the total runoff hydrograph shown in Figure 3, for which the corresponding effective rainfall hyetograph over the catchment is known. In this example, the flow in the stream starts rising at about 4 hours, and the peak is seen to reach at about 10.5 hours. The direct runoff is presumed to end at about 19.5 hours. Though we have separately shown the base flow and the direct runoff in Figures 4 and 5, it is only a guess, as what is observed flowing in the stream is the total discharge. A couple of procedures are explained in the following sub-sections to separate the two flows. For this, we consider another hydrograph (Figure 6), where the total flow is seen to be reducing initially, and then a sudden rise takes place, probably due to a sudden burst of rainfall. Method 1 One method to separate the base flow from the total runoff hydrograph is to join points X and Z as shown in Figure 7. This method is considered not very accurate, though.