Effect of land cover change on runoff curve number estimation in Iowa, 1832–2001



Within the first few decades of European-descended settlers arriving in Iowa, much of the land cover across the state was transformed from prairie and forest to farmland, patches of forest, and urbanized areas. Land cover change over the subsequent 126 years was minor in comparison. Between 1832 and 1859, the General Land Office conducted a survey of the State of Iowa to aid in the disbursement of land. In 1875, an illustrated atlas of the State of Iowa was published, and in 2001, the US Geological Survey National Land Cover Dataset was compiled. Using these three data resources for classifying land cover, the hydrologic impact of the land cover change at three points in time over a period of 132+ years is presented in terms of the effect on the area-weighted average curve number, a term commonly used to predict peak runoff from rainstorms. In the four watersheds studied, the area-weighted average curve number associated with the first 30 years of settlement increased from 61·4 to 77·8. State-wide mapped forest area over this same period decreased 19%. Over the next 126 years, the area-weighted average curve number decreased to 76·7, despite an additional forest area reduction of 60%. This suggests that degradation of aquatic resources (plants, fish, invertebrates, and habitat) arising from hydrologic alteration was likely to have been much higher during the 30 years of initial settlement than in the subsequent period of 126 years in which land cover changes resulted primarily from deforestation and urbanization. Published 2010. This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.