Topographic and Land Use Controls on Baseflow in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains

EPA Grant Number: F6C20808
Title: Topographic and Land Use Controls on Baseflow in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains
Investigators: Price, Katie
Institution: University of Georgia
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: August 1, 2006 through July 31, 2009
Project Amount: $107,119
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Fellowship - Geomorphology , Fellowship - Hydrology


This project seeks to provide insight into the effects of topography and human land use on stream baseflow (low-flow) using a combination of field data collection and GIS modeling. Identifying the interactions between key controls on stream baseflow hydrology will allow for improved watershed management, monitoring, and modeling. A better understanding of baseflow is critical to many realms of environmental protection, including preservation of aquatic habitat, ensured contaminant dilution, and maintenance of freshwater resources for human consumption, agriculture, and industry.

This project has been designed to explore four central questions regarding the interactions between basin characteristics and baseflow in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains: 1) How does basin land use affect baseflow? 2) What are the key influences of basin morphometry and topography on water storage and baseflow? 3) How do factors of topography and land use interact to influence baseflow discharge? 4) What are the implications of streamflow response to land use change in this rapidly developing region?


Small to medium basins (5 to 50 km2) will be emphasized in this study, in order to avoid the topographic and land use complexity associated with larger systems. Approaches to address each of the four central research questions are summarized below:
1. Pairwise comparison of stream basins exhibiting contrasting levels of human impact will be used to assess the influence of basin land use on baseflow.
2. All regionally available long-term streamflow records (e.g. U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Forest Service) will be analyzed to determine the influence of basin morphometry on subsurface storage and baseflow. Morphometry will be quantified from digital topographic data.
3. The mean baseflow discharge of 40 sub-basins of the Little Tennessee River will be analyzed to determine the relative roles of varied landscape characteristics (especially topographic metrics, morphometric indices, and various metrics of land use coverage and distribution) in predicting baseflow.
4. GIS modeling will be conducted to explore various forecasted regional land use change scenarios.

Expected Results:

I anticipate that basin land use will emerge as the predominant control on baseflow in most basins, with exceptions existing in cases of extreme or anomalous topography. I hypothesize that greater vegetation cover will be associated with greater baseflow discharge. I expect that basins characterized by fewer areas of steep surface slope will be linked with greater storage of storm water and higher baseflow. Additionally, I expect that GIS modeling will predict decreases in baseflow discharge associated with the forecasted rapid low- to medium-density development in this region. Development strategies to protect water quantity will be explored.

Supplemental Keywords:

Baseflow, Basin Morphometry, Blue Ridge, GIS Modeling, Human Impact, Land Use Change, Southern Appalachians, Water Quantity,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Water & Watershed, Environmental Monitoring, Ecology and Ecosystems, Watersheds, streamflow sensitivity, stream ecosystems, conservation, availability of water resources, aquatic ecosystems, GIS, watershed sustainablility, ecology assessment models, watershed assessment, land use

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2007
  • 2008
  • Final