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Keywords:

  • flooding;
  • runoff;
  • land-use/land-cover change;
  • urbanization;
  • rivers/streams;
  • trend analysis

Vogel, Richard M., Chad Yaindl, and Meghan Walter, 2011. Nonstationarity: Flood Magnification and Recurrence Reduction Factors in the United States. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 47(3):464-474. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2011.00541.x

Abstract:  It may no longer be reasonable to model streamflow as a stationary process, yet nearly all existing water resource planning methods assume that historical streamflows will remain unchanged in the future. In the few instances when trends in extreme events have been considered, most recent work has focused on the influence of climate change, alone. This study takes a different approach by exploring trends in floods in watersheds which are subject to a very broad range of anthropogenic influences, not limited to climate change. A simple statistical model is developed which can both mimic observed flood trends as well as the frequency of floods in a nonstationary world. This model is used to explore a range of flood planning issues in a nonstationary world. A decadal flood magnification factor is defined as the ratio of the T-year flood in a decade to the T-year flood today. Using historical flood data across the United States we obtain flood magnification factors in excess of 2-5 for many regions of the United States, particularly those regions with higher population densities. Similarly, we compute recurrence reduction factors which indicate that what is now considered the 100-year flood, may become much more common in many watersheds. Nonstationarity in floods can result from a variety of anthropogenic processes including changes in land use, climate, and water use, with likely interactions among those processes making it very difficult to attribute trends to a particular cause.