• urbanization;
  • geographic information systems (GIS);
  • watershed management;
  • surface water;
  • runoff;
  • spatial metrics and hydrology

Abstract:  The capacity of a watershed to urbanize without changing its hydrologic response and the relationship between that response and the spatial configuration of the developed areas was studied. The study was conducted in the Whiteoak Bayou watershed (223 km2), located northwest of Houston, Texas, over an analysis period from 1949 to 2000. Annual development data were derived from parcel data collected by the Harris County Appraisal District. Using these data, measures of the spatial configuration of the watershed urban areas were calculated for each year. Based on regression models, it was determined that the annual runoff depths and annual peak flows depended on the annual precipitation depth, the developed area and the maximum 12-h precipitation depth on the day and day before the peak flow took place. It was found that, since the early 1970s, when the watershed reached a 10% impervious area, annual runoff depths and peak flows have increased by 146% and 159%, respectively. However, urbanization is responsible for only 77% and 32% of the increase, respectively, while precipitation changes are responsible for the remaining 39% and 96%, respectively. Likewise, an analysis of the development data showed that, starting in the early 1970s, urbanization in the watershed consisted more of connecting already developed areas than of creating new ones, which increases the watershed’s conveyance capacity and explains the change in its response. Before generalizing conclusions, though, further research on other urban watersheds with different urbanization models appears to be necessary.