Effects of urbanization on streamflow in the Atlanta area (Georgia, USA): a comparative hydrological approach



For the period from 1958 to 1996, streamflow characteristics of a highly urbanized watershed were compared with less-urbanized and non-urbanized watersheds within a 20 000 km2 region in the vicinity of Atlanta, Georgia: in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge physiographic provinces of the southeastern USA. Water levels in several wells completed in surficial and crystalline-rock aquifers were also evaluated. Data were analysed for seven US Geological Survey (USGS) stream gauges, 17 National Weather Service rain gauges, and five USGS monitoring wells. Annual runoff coefficients (RCs; runoff as a fractional percentage of precipitation) for the urban stream (Peachtree Creek) were not significantly greater than for the less-urbanized watersheds. The RCs for some streams were similar to others and the similar streams were grouped according to location. The RCs decreased from the higher elevation and higher relief watersheds to the lower elevation and lower relief watersheds: values were 0·54 for the two Blue Ridge streams, 0·37 for the four middle Piedmont streams (near Atlanta), and 0·28 for a southern Piedmont stream. For the 25 largest stormflows, the peak flows for Peachtree Creek were 30% to 100% greater than peak flows for the other streams. The storm recession period for the urban stream was 1–2 days less than that for the other streams and the recession was characterized by a 2-day storm recession constant that was, on average, 40 to 100% greater, i.e. streamflow decreased more rapidly than for the other streams. Baseflow recession constants ranged from 35 to 40% lower for Peachtree Creek than for the other streams; this is attributed to lower evapotranspiration losses, which result in a smaller change in groundwater storage than in the less-urbanized watersheds. Low flow of Peachtree Creek ranged from 25 to 35% less than the other streams, possibly the result of decreased infiltration caused by the more efficient routing of stormwater and the paving of groundwater recharge areas. The timing of daily or monthly groundwater-level fluctuations was similar annually in each well, reflecting the seasonal recharge. Although water-level monitoring only began in the 1980s for the two urban wells, water levels displayed a notable decline compared with non-urban wells since then; this is attributed to decreased groundwater recharge in the urban watersheds due to increased imperviousness and related rapid storm runoff. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.