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Effects of Watershed Land Use and Geomorphology on Stream Low Flows During Severe Drought Conditions in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia and North Carolina, United States
PRICE, K., C. R. Jackson, A. J. Parker, T. Reitan, J. Dowd, AND M. J. CYTERSKI. Effects of Watershed Land Use and Geomorphology on Stream Low Flows During Severe Drought Conditions in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia and North Carolina, United States. WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH. American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC, 47:W02516, (2011).
Land use and physiographic variability influence stream low flows, yet their interactions and relative influence remain unresolved. Our objective was to assess the influence of land use and watershed geomorphic characteristics on low-flow variability in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Georgia. Ten minute interval discharge data for 35 streams (in watersheds from 3 to 146 km2) were measured for two late summer low-flow seasons, coinciding with a severe drought period in the southeastern United States. Three low-flow metrics were calculated (1 and 7 day minimum flows and 1st percentile flow) for each low-flow season (5 August to 12 November 2007 and 1 August to 12 November 2008). A comprehensive suite of watershed characteristics, including factors of topography, channel network morphometry, soils, land use, and precipitation were used in multiple regression analysis of low-flow variability among the 35 watersheds. Additionally, low flows in groups of lower- and higher-forest cover watersheds were compared. Drainage density, areal coverage of colluvium, topographic variability (as slope standard deviation), and percent of the channel network as first order stream emerged as the most important variables for explaining low-flow variability. Watershed forest cover demonstrated a consistent, significant positive relationship with low flows, despite the higher evapotranspiration rates associated with forest compared with other land covers and despite the relatively small range of disturbance in this study area. This highlights the importance of infiltration and recharge under undisturbed land cover in sustaining low flows, and it bears noteworthy implications for environmental flows and water resource sustainability.