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Urbanization of grasslands in the Denver area affects streamflow responses to rainfall events

October 3, 2022

A thorough understanding of how urbanization affects stream hydrology is crucial for effective and sustainable water management, particularly in rapidly urbanizing regions. This study presents a comprehensive analysis of changes in streamflow response to rainfall events across a rural to urban gradient in the semi-arid area of Denver, Colorado. We used 8 years of April to October instantaneous streamflow data in 21 watersheds ranging in size from 0.8 to 90 km2 and with impervious areas ranging from 1% to 47%. With these data, we applied a semi-automated method to identify a total of 2877 streamflow responses, which were analysed for event-based metrics of peak flow, runoff depth, runoff to rainfall ratio, time to peak, duration and number of streamflow responses to rainfall events. We also determined whether streamflow responses could be predicted by a precipitation threshold. Watersheds with >10% impervious cover had a precipitation threshold of 1–2 mm/hr needed to produce a streamflow response, compared to thresholds of 4–36 mm/hr for watersheds with less than 10% impervious surface cover. This lower precipitation threshold in more impervious watersheds led to more frequent streamflow responses. On average, streamflow responses had shorter duration and higher peak flows in watersheds with more impervious surface cover. In contrast to other regions, runoff depth, runoff to rainfall ratio and time to peak either gave mixed results or did not vary significantly with imperviousness. These alterations in streamflow response to rainfall events indicate the specific ways that urban development changes how streams respond to rain events in a semi-arid setting. This work points to the need for local adaptation of stormwater management to mitigate the effects of streamflow changes with urbanization.

Publication Year 2022
Title Urbanization of grasslands in the Denver area affects streamflow responses to rainfall events
DOI 10.1002/hyp.14720
Authors Stacy Wilson, Aditi S. Bhaskar, Benjamin Choat, Stephanie K. Kampf, Timothy Green, Kristina G. Hopkins
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Hydrological Processes
Index ID 70237716
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization South Atlantic Water Science Center