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Keywords:

  • Central America;
  • tropical hydrology;
  • cloud forest headwater catchments;
  • runoff generation;
  • water balance;
  • rainfall-runoff relationships

Caballero, Luis A., Alon Rimmer, Zachary M. Easton, and Tammo S. Steenhuis, 2012. Rainfall Runoff Relationships for a Cloud Forest Watershed in Central America: Implications for Water Resource Engineering. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 48(5): 1022-1031. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2012.00668.x

Abstract:  Understanding the basic relationships between rainfall and runoff is vital for effective management and utilization of scarce water resources. Especially, this is important in Central America with widespread potable water shortage during the dry months of the monsoon. Potential good water sources are cloud forests, but little information concerning its potential is available to water supply engineers. Our objective is to define rainfall-runoff-base flow relationships for a cloud forest catchment. Flumes were installed for measuring river flow in four subwatersheds in La Tigra National Park, Honduras. One of the four watersheds was a 636-ha subwatershed (WS1) with 60% cloud forest coverage. Precipitation averaged 1,130 mm/yr over the entire basin. About half of the total rainfall became runoff for the cloud forest watershed whereas, for the adjacent undisturbed forested watershed, the total discharge was <20% of the amount of precipitation. Infiltration rates were generally greater than rainfall rates. Therefore, most rainfall infiltrated into the soil, especially in the upper, steep, and well-drained portions of the watershed. Direct runoff was generated from saturated areas near the river and exposed bedrock. This research provides compelling evidence that base flow is the primary contributor to streamflow during both wet and dry seasons in cloud forest catchments. Protecting these flow processes over time is critical for the sustained provision of potable water.