Hydrologic signals and surprises in U.S. streamflow records during urbanization

Water Resources Research
By: , and 



Urban development has been observed to lead to variable magnitudes of change for stormflow volume and directions of baseflow change across cities. This work examines temporal streamflow trends across the flow duration curve in 53 watersheds during periods of peak urban development, which ranged from 1939 to 2016. We used U.S. Geological Survey streamgage records combined with pre‐development and urbanization characteristics to identify 20 years for analysis in each urbanizing watershed. Each urbanizing gage was paired with a nearby reference gage representing climatic trends over the same time period. Results indicated that urbanization, as measured by housing density, did not homogeneously alter the flow duration curve. Urbanization led to widely variable trends in low flow, where half of the urbanizing gages had increasing flow at the 10th non‐exceedance percentile, and the other half had declining low flow. High flows generally increased in streams as the area urbanized. The largest increases in high flows were in streams in semi‐arid and arid areas. The largest urban flow changes had transformations in wastewater infrastructure, water supply infrastructure, and flood control facilities. Isolating flow changes due to urbanization from those of reference sites will serve to better identify and manage synergistic effects of urban development and climate change on flooding and water availability.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Hydrologic signals and surprises in U.S. streamflow records during urbanization
Series title Water Resources Research
DOI 10.1029/2019WR027039
Volume 56
Issue 9
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) South Atlantic Water Science Center
Description e2019WR027039, 22 p.
Country United States
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