Evaluating key watershed components of low flow regimes in New England streams

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Water resource managers seeking to optimize stream ecosystem services and abstractions of water from watersheds need an understanding of the importance of land use, physical and climatic characteristics, and hydrography on different low flow components of stream hydrographs. Within 33 USGS gaged watersheds of southern New England, we assessed relationships between watershed variables and a set of low flow parameters by using an information-theoretical approach. The key variables identified by the Akaike Information Criteria (AIC) weighting factors as generating positive relationships with low flow events included percent stratified drift, mean elevation, drainage area, and mean August precipitation. The extent of wetlands in the watershed was negatively related to low flow magnitudes. Of the various land use variables, the percentage of developed land was found to have the highest importance and a negative relationship on low flow magnitudes, but was less important than wetlands and physical and climatic features. Our results suggest that management practices aimed to sustain low flows in fluvial systems can benefit from attention to specific watershed features. We draw attention to the finding that streams located in watersheds with high proportions of wetlands may require more stringent approaches to withdrawals to sustain fluvial ecosystems during drought periods, particularly in watersheds with extensive development and limited deposits of stratified drift.

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Journal of Environmental Quality