Comparison of Estuarine water quality models for total maximum daily load development in Neuse River Estuary


The North Carolina Division of Water Quality developed a total maximum daily load (TMDL) to reduce nitrogen inputs into the Neuse River Estuary to address the problem of repeated violations of the ambient chlorophyll a criterion. Three distinct water quality models were applied to support the TMDL: a two-dimensional laterally averaged model, a three-dimensional model, and a probability (Bayesian network) model. In this paper, we compare the salient features of all three models and present the results of a verification exercise in which each calibrated model was used to predict estuarine chlorophyll a concentrations for the year 2000. We present six summary statistics to relate the model predictions to the observed chlorophyll values: (1) the correlation coefficient; (2) the average error; (3) the average absolute error; (4) the root mean squared error; (5) the reliability index; and (6) the modeling efficiency. Additionally, we examined each model's ability to predict how frequently the 40 μg/L chlorophyll a criterion was exceeded. The results indicate that none of the models predicted chlorophyll concentrations particularly well. Predictive accuracy was no better in the more process-oriented, spatially detailed models than in the aggregate probabilistic model. Our relative inability to predict accurately, even in well-studied, data-rich systems underscores the need for adaptive management, in which management actions are recognized as whole-ecosystem experiments providing additional data and information to better understand and predict system behavior.