Analysis of subsurface storage and streamflow generation in urban watersheds

Author/Creator ORCID





Citation of Original Publication

Aditi S. Bhaskar, Claire Welty, Analysis of subsurface storage and streamflow generation in urban watersheds, Water Resources Research, Volume 51(3), pages 1493-1513, 2015,


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Subsurface storage as a regulator of streamflow was investigated as an explanation for the large proportion of pre‐event water observed in urban streams during storm events. We used multiple lines of inquiry to explore the relationship between pre‐event water proportion, subsurface storage, and streamflow under storm conditions. First, we used a three‐dimensional model of integrated subsurface and surface flow and solute transport to simulate an idealized hillslope to perform model‐based chemical hydrograph separation of stormflow. Second, we employed simple dynamical systems analysis to derive the relationship between subsurface storage and streamflow for three Baltimore, Maryland watersheds (3.8–14 km2 in area) along an urban‐to‐rural gradient. Last, we applied chemical hydrograph separation to high‐frequency specific conductance data in nested urban watersheds (∼50% impervious surface cover) in Dead Run, Baltimore County, Maryland. Unlike the importance of antecedent subsurface storage observed in some systems, we found that rainfall depth and not subsurface storage was the primary control on pre‐event water proportion in both field observations and hillslope numerical experiments. Field observations showed that antecedent stream base flow did not affect pre‐event water proportion or streamflow values under storm conditions. Hillslope model results showed that the relationship between streamflow values under storm conditions and subsurface storage was clockwise hysteretic. The simple dynamical systems approach showed that stream base flow in the most urbanized of three watersheds exhibited the largest sensitivity to changes in storage. This work raises questions about the streamflow generation mechanisms by which pre‐event water dominates urban storm hydrographs, and the shifts between mechanisms in rural and urban watersheds.