Protecting Stream Ecosystem Health in the Face of Rapid Urbanization and Climate Change
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The ability to anticipate and evaluate the combined impacts of urbanization and climate change on streamflow regimes is critical to developing proactive strategies that protect aquatic ecosystems. I developed an interdisciplinary modeling framework to compare and contrast the effectiveness of integrated stormwater management, or its absence, with two regional growth patterns for maintaining streamflow regimes in the context of climate change. In three adjacent urbanizing watersheds in Oregon's Willamette Valley, I conducted a three-step sequence to: 1) simulate land use change under four future development scenarios with the agent-based model Envision; 2) model resultant hydrological change under the recent past and two future climate regimes using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool; and 3) assess scenario impacts on streamflow regimes using 10 ecologically significant flow metrics. I evaluated each scenario in each basin using a flow metric typology based on the magnitude of change in each metric and the degree to which such changes could be mitigated, i.e., insensitive, sensitive and manageable, and sensitive and resistant. My results demonstrated distinct signatures of urbanization and climate change on flow regimes. Urbanization and climate change in isolation led to significant flow alterations in all three basins. Urbanization consistently led to increases in flow regime flashiness and severity of extreme flow events, whereas climate change primarily caused a drying trend. Climate change tended to exacerbate the impacts of urbanization but also mitigated urban impacts on several metrics. The combined impacts of urbanization and climate change caused substantial changes to metric sensitivities, which further differed by basin and climate regime, highlighting the uncertainties of streamflow regime responses to development and the value of spatially explicit modeling that can reveal complex interactions between natural and human systems. Scenario comparisons demonstrated the importance of integrated stormwater management and, secondarily, compact regional growth. My findings reveal the need for regional flow-ecology research that substantiates the ecological significance of each flow metric, develops specific targets for manageable ones, and explores potential remedies for resistant ones. The interdisciplinary modeling framework shows promise as a transferable tool for local watershed management. This dissertation includes previously unpublished co-authored material.