EPA Science Inventory



Jarnagin, S. T. AND D. B. Jennings. IMPERVIOUS SURFACES AND STREAMFLOW DISCHARGE: A HISTORICAL REMOTE SENSING PERSPECTIVE IN A NORTHERN VIRGINIA SUBWATERSHED. Presented at International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) 2001 Annual Meeting, Tempe, AZ, April 25-28, 2001.


Impervious surfaces are a leading contributor to non-point-source water pollution in urban watersheds. These surfaces include such features as roads, parking lots, rooftops and driveways. Aerial photography provides a historical vehicle for determining impervious surface growth and, with concurrent daily streamflow and precipitation records, allows the
historical relationship of impervious surfaces and streamflow to be explored. Impervious surface area in the upper Accotink Creek subwatershed was mapped from six dates of georegistered historical aerial photography ranging from 1949 to 1994. Impervious surface cover has grown from approximately 3% in 1949 to 33% in 1994. Analysis of historical concurrent daily mean streamflow and daily precipitation records (1949 - 1998) shows a statistically significant increase in normalized discharge rates (per I in. of precipitation) for precipitation events 0.25 in., while the amount of precipitation per event shows no statistically significant change over the same time period. Historical changes in streamflow in this basin appear to be related to increases in impervious surface cover as determined by aerial photography and not to changes in precipitation patterns. The use of historical remote sensing data to reveal changes in landscape characteristics shows promise as a tool in understanding long-term changes in ecosystem function.


Overarching Objectives and Links to Multi-year Planning

This research directly supports long-term goals established in ORD's multi-year research plans related to GPRA Goal 2 (Water Quality) and Long Term Goal WQ-2 Assessment of aquatic systems impairment. Relative to the GRPA Goal 2 Water Quality multi-year plan, this research will "provide tools to assess and diagnose impairment in aquatic systems and the sources of associated stressors" and "provide the tools to restore and protect aquatic ecosystems and to forecast the ecological, economic, and human health outcomes of alternative solutions" (Water Quality Long Term Research Goals 2 and 3).

Subtask 1 - Impervious Surface Evaluation

This subtask addresses the development of impervious surfaces estimators for local to regional scale assessments of watersheds and their landscape relationship to stream ecology. The amount of impervious surface area in a watershed is a key indicator of landscape change. As a single variable, it serves to integrate a number of concurrent interactions that directly influence a watershed's hydrology, stream chemical quality, and in-stream habitat. It is our working hypothesis that impervious surface area within a watershed, as an independently mapped predictor variable, can be used to generally track a range of watershed ecological parameters (e.g., NPS pollution, biological integrity, TMDLs) that are of concern to local, state and federal environmental managers. The specific objectives of this research are: 1) to quantitatively evaluate the varying remote sensing methods used in mapping impervious surfaces at multiple scales (local to regional), and 2) to relate the varying levels of impervious surface area in watersheds to the environmental condition of multiple water resource endpoints such as streamflow, temperature, and biota.

Subtask 2 -- Landscape Assessments and Evaluations of Best Management Practices: Watershed Demonstrations

Best Management Practices (BMP) encompass a range of strategies to reduce water pollution related to urban and agricultural activities. EPA, through Section 319(h) of the Clean Water Act [PL 92-500], provides grants to states to implement BMPs in areas with suspected or known water-quality problems. Grants for implementation of BMPs have not been tracked or monitored to document their effectiveness. Although effectiveness can be measured in many different ways, one straightforward but important measure is existence. Implementation of BMPs is a voluntary process and actual implementation is not always executed (Nowak 1992). The primary objective of this project is to assess the feasibility of using high-resolution aerial photography and other remotely sensed data to identify the existence of BMPs that were planned under the 319 program. An additional objective is to evaluate the effectives of BMPs implemented by examining monitoring data from about 5 sites in the OW National NPS monitoring system.

There are several potential benefits to determining the feasibility of using the aerial photography for identifying BMPs: 1) since BMP implementation is voluntary and some may not be implemented due to a variety of social and economic factors (Nowak 1992), remote detection of BMPs can provide data to estimate the ratio of BMPs implemented to BMPs planned; 2) remote detection of BMPs provides validation data that can be input into EPA's Grants Reporting and Tracking System (GRTS), and 3) remote monitoring of BMPs over time could be used to develop data on BMP lifespans, providing important data related to social- and cost-effectiveness.

Subtask 3 -- TMDL Non-point Source Assessment Tool

This subtask involves the development of a software tool to assess the potential risks of water bodies to exceed TMDL threshold values established by States. When completed, the tool will allow the user to evaluate watersheds over entire regions. The too

Record Details:

Start Date: 04/25/2001
Completion Date: 04/25/2001
Record Last Revised: 06/06/2005
Record Created: 09/26/2003
Record Released: 09/26/2003
Record ID: 60912