Effects of urbanization on watershed hydrology: The scaling of discharge with drainage area

Joshua C. Galster, Frank J. Pazzaglia, Bruce R. Hargreaves, Donald P. Morris, Stephen C. Peters, Richard N. Weisman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


This study examines the effects of impervious surfaces within urbanized land on the scaling of river discharge with drainage area. Discharge in a river channel grows as drainage basin area increases following the general equation Q = kAc, where Q is river discharge, k is a measure of river base flow, A is upstream drainage area, and c is the scaling power dependency. Land use is a critical variable in the examination of river discharge; discharge has significant geologic and ecologic influences on fluvial systems. Discharge is assumed to scale linearly or nearly linearly with drainage area (c ∼1), but in spite of its widespread application, the relationship has not been explicitly tested with respect to urbanization. Here we show that in small urban settings the scaling is nonlinear for peak flows. It is proposed that effective water loading occurs through a combination of increased runoff and an increase in the rate of transport to the rivers. These higher discharges in urban rivers have the potential to increase erosion, degrade aquatic habitats, and significantly alter channel forms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-716
Number of pages4
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Discharge
  • Drainage area
  • Land use
  • Urbanization
  • Watershed


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