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Keywords:

  • stream response;
  • headwater streams;
  • landscape influences;
  • flashiness;
  • land use;
  • crest-stage gauge;
  • redundancy analysis;
  • Manning’s equation;
  • monitoring

Stanfield, Les W. and Don A. Jackson, 2011. Understanding the Factors That Influence Headwater Stream Flows in Response to Storm Events. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 1-22. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2010.00518.x

Abstract:  Headwater drainage features (first- to second-order streams) are the capillaries of the landscape that, among other things, moderate the timing and volumes of water available to the riparian and aquatic ecosystems. How these features respond to summer rainfall is poorly understood. We studied how geology and an index of land use/land cover influenced peak flows following rainfall events in 110 headwater stream sites that were studied over a four-month period during a drought year. Highest peak flows were observed in the most urbanized catchments and in poorly drained soils, but specific responses were variable depending on both geology and land disturbance. Redundancy analysis indicated that both surficial geology and land disturbance were important factors influencing peak flows under drought conditions. We conclude that responses of these headwater streams to individual storms during drought conditions are unpredictable from data collected using our methods, but increased peak flows were associated with increased urban and agricultural development, but mitigated by surficial geology. These findings demonstrate the challenges to accurately predict flow conditions in headwater streams during periods of extreme weather that concurrently have the greatest potential effect on biota. The combination of these challenges and importance of such events indicates the need to develop new approaches to study and manage these resources.