, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 62–75 | Cite as

Stormwater Infrastructure Controls Runoff and Dissolved Material Export from Arid Urban Watersheds

  • Rebecca L. Hale
  • Laura Turnbull
  • Stevan R. Earl
  • Daniel L. Childers
  • Nancy B. Grimm


Urbanization alters watershed ecosystem functioning, including nutrient budgets and processes of nutrient retention. It is unknown, however, how variation in stormwater infrastructure design affects the delivery of water and materials from urban watersheds. In this study, we asked: (1) How does stormwater infrastructure design vary over time and space in an arid city (Phoenix, Arizona, USA)?, and (2) How does variation in infrastructure design affect fluxes of dissolved nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and organic carbon (DOC) from urban watershed ecosystems? From 1955 to 2010, stormwater infrastructure designs shifted from pipes, to engineered channels and retention basins, to natural washes. We monitored 10 nested watersheds, where small (5–141 ha) watersheds had medium-density residential land use but differed in stormwater infrastructure, whereas larger watersheds (1,662–20,247 ha) had a variety of land uses and infrastructures. We measured rainfall in each watershed and discharge and dissolved N, P, and DOC concentrations in flow at each watershed outlet for runoff-generating rainfall events between 2010 and 2012. We used path analysis to test hypotheses about the relationships among infrastructure characteristics, land cover, storm characteristics (including antecedent conditions), and nutrient and DOC loads. We found that retention-basin density decreased and imperviousness increased runoff, which in turn increased nutrient and DOC delivery. Concentrations varied with antecedent conditions and rainfall but did not vary with watershed characteristics. We show that stormwater infrastructure creates heterogeneity in the hydrologic and biogeochemical function of urban watersheds and that stormwater management may represent a major source of ecosystem heterogeneity within and across cities.


nitrogen phosphorus dissolved organic carbon urban ecosystems watershed ecosystem heterogeneity stormwater management path analysis 



We thank the cities of Tempe, Phoenix, and Scottsdale for permission and assistance in stormwater sampling and for providing datasets describing stormwater infrastructure. The Environmental Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics Lab at Arizona State University provided land-cover classification data. This material is based upon the work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant numbers BCS-1026865 (CAP LTER) and DEB-0918457 (Impacts of urbanization on nitrogen biogeochemistry in xeric ecosystems). Hale received additional funding from National Science Foundation Grant number No. 0504248, IGERT in Urban Ecology at Arizona State University. Kate Lindekugel, Cathy Kochert, Quincy Stewart, Nicholas Weller, Sarah Moratto, and Danielle Shorts provided valuable field and lab assistance.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 114 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca L. Hale
    • 1
    • 2
  • Laura Turnbull
    • 3
  • Stevan R. Earl
    • 4
  • Daniel L. Childers
    • 4
    • 5
  • Nancy B. Grimm
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Global Change and Sustainability CenterUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geography, Institute of Hazards, Risk and ResilienceDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  4. 4.Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  5. 5.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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