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Hydrologic metrics for status-and-trends monitoring in urban and urbanizing watersheds

November 12, 2017

Local governmental agencies are increasingly undertaking potentially costly “status-and-trends” monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of stormwater control measures and land-use planning strategies, or to satisfy regulatory requirements. Little guidance is presently available for such efforts, and so we have explored the application, interpretation, and temporal limitations of well-established hydrologic metrics of runoff changes from urbanization, making use of an unusually long-duration, high-quality data set from the Pacific Northwest (USA) with direct applicability to urban and urbanizing watersheds. Three metrics previously identified for their utility in identifying hydrologic conditions with biological importance that respond to watershed urbanization—TQmean (the fraction of time that flows exceed the mean annual discharge), the Richards-Baker Index (characterizing flashiness relative to the mean discharge), and the annual tally of wet-season day-to-day flow reversals (the total number of days that reverse the prior days’ increasing or decreasing trend)—are all successful in stratifying watersheds across a range of urbanization, as measured by total contributing area of urban development. All metrics respond with statistical significance to multi-decadal trends in urbanization, but none detect trends in watershed-scale urbanization over the course of a single decade. This suggests a minimum period over which dependable trends in hydrologic alteration (or improvement) can be detected with confidence. The metrics also prove less well suited to urbanizing watersheds in a semi-arid climate, with only flow reversals showing a response consistent with prior findings from more humid regions. We also explore the use of stage as a surrogate for discharge in calculating these metrics, recognizing potentially significant agency cost savings in data collection with minimal loss of information. This approach is feasible but cannot be implemented under current data-reporting practices, requiring measurement of water-depth values and preservation of the full precision of the original recorded data. With these caveats, however, hydrologic metrics based on stage should prove as or more useful, at least in the context of status-and-trends monitoring, as those based on subsequent calculations of discharge.

Publication Year 2017
Title Hydrologic metrics for status-and-trends monitoring in urban and urbanizing watersheds
DOI 10.1002/hyp.11369
Authors Derek B. Booth, Christopher P. Konrad
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Hydrological Processes
Index ID 70192972
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Washington Water Science Center