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Keywords:

  • benthic macroinvertebrates;
  • environmental indicators, hydrologic metrics;
  • index of biological integrity;
  • land use/land cover change;
  • urbanization;
  • urban streams;
  • watershed management

Abstract:  We used a retrospective approach to identify hydrologic metrics with the greatest potential for ecological relevance for use as resource management tools (i.e., hydrologic indicators) in rapidly urbanizing basins of the Puget Lowland. We proposed four criteria for identifying useful hydrologic indicators: (1) sensitive to urbanization consistent with expected hydrologic response, (2) demonstrate statistically significant trends in urbanizing basins (and not in undeveloped basins), (3) be correlated with measures of biological response to urbanization, and (4) be relatively insensitive to potentially confounding variables like basin area. Data utilized in the analysis included gauged flow and benthic macroinvertebrate data collected at 16 locations in 11 King County stream basins. Fifteen hydrologic metrics were calculated from daily average flow data and the Pacific Northwest Benthic Index of Biological Integrity (B-IBI) was used to represent the gradient of response of stream macroinvertebrates to urbanization. Urbanization was represented by percent Total Impervious Area (%TIA) and percent urban land cover (%Urban). We found eight hydrologic metrics that were significantly correlated with B-IBI scores (Low Pulse Count and Duration; High Pulse Count, Duration, and Range; Flow Reversals, TQmean, and R-B Index). Although there appeared to be a great deal of redundancy among these metrics with respect to their response to urbanization, only two of the metrics tested – High Pulse Count and High Pulse Range – best met all four criteria we established for selecting hydrologic indicators. The increase in these high pulse metrics with respect to urbanization is the result of an increase in winter high pulses and the occurrence of high pulse events during summer (increasing the frequency and range of high pulses), when practically none would have occurred prior to development. We performed an initial evaluation of the usefulness of our hydrologic indicators by calculating and comparing hydrologic metrics derived from continuous hydrologic simulations of selected basin management alternatives for Miller Creek, one of the most highly urbanized basins used in our study. We found that the preferred basin management alternative appeared to be effective in restoring some flow metrics close to simulated fully forested conditions (e.g., TQmean), but less effective in restoring other metrics such as High Pulse Count and Range. If future research continues to support our hypothesis that the flow regime, particularly High Pulse Count and Range, is an important control of biotic integrity in Puget Lowland streams, it would have significant implications for stormwater management.