U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Document Type


Date of this Version



Journal of Hydrology 485 (2013) 37–53; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2012.11.054


Recharge of urban runoff to groundwater as a stormwater management practice has gained importance in semi-arid regions where water resources are scarce and urban centers are growing. Despite this trend, the importance of land cover in controlling semi-arid catchment runoff quantity and quality remains unclear. Here we address the question: How do land cover characteristics control the amount and quality of storm runoff in semi-arid urban catchments? We monitored summertime runoff quantity and quality from five catchments dominated by distinct urban land uses: low, medium, and high density residential, mixed use, and commercial. Increasing urban land cover increased runoff duration and the likelihood that a rainfall event would result in runoff, but did not increase the time to peak discharge of episodic runoff. The effect of urban land cover on hydrologic responses was tightly coupled to the magnitude of rainfall. At distinct rainfall thresholds, roads, percent impervious cover and the stormwater drainage network controlled runoff frequency, runoff depth and runoff ratios. Contrary to initial expectations, runoff quality did not vary in repose to impervious cover or land use. We identified four major mechanisms controlling runoff quality: (1) variable solute sourcing due to land use heterogeneity and above ground catchment connectivity; (2) the spatial extent of pervious and biogeochemically active areas; (3) the efficiency of overland flow and runoff mobilization; and (4) solute flushing and dilution. Our study highlights the importance of the stormwater drainage systems characteristics in controlling urban runoff quantity and quality; and suggests that enhanced wetting and in-stream processes may control solute sourcing and retention. Finally, we suggest that the characteristics of the stormwater drainage system should be integrated into stormwater management approaches.