Dynamics of Wet-season Turbidity in Relation to Precipitation, Discharge, and Land Cover in Three Urbanizing Watersheds, Oregon

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River Research and Applications

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Frequent intense precipitation events can mobilize and carry sediment and pollutants into rivers, degrading water quality. However, how seasonal rainfall and land cover affect the complex relationship between discharge and turbidity in urban watersheds is still under investigation. Using hourly discharge, rainfall, and turbidity data collected from six stations in three adjacent watersheds between 2008 and 2017, we examined the temporal variability of the discharge–turbidity relationship along an urban–rural gradient. We quantified hysteresis between normalized discharge and turbidity by a hysteresis index and classified hysteresis loops during 377 storm events in early, mid, and late wet season. Hysteresis loop index and direction varied by site land cover type and season. Turbidity values peaked quicker in the watersheds with higher degrees of urban development than in a less urbanized watershed. The positive relation between discharge and turbidity was highest in two downstream stations in the mid wet season, whereas it was highest in two upstream stations in the early wet season. Correlation and regression analysis showed that maximum turbidity was best explained by discharge range, and the sensitivity of turbidity to discharge change was higher in the larger downstream watershed than in the small upstream watersheds. A flashiness index was negatively associated with the slope of turbidity versus discharge, suggesting that turbidity is difficult to predict solely on the basis of discharge in flashy urban streams. This paper contributes to a deeper understanding of the spatial and temporal variation of discharge–concentration relationship in urbanizing watersheds, which can help water managers increase the resiliency of water‐related ecosystem services to impacts of climate change.


© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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