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Urbanisation and Shallow Groundwater: Predicting Changes in Catchment Hydrological Responses


The impact of urbanisation on catchment hydrological response was investigated by using a process-based coupled surface water–groundwater model (MODHMS). The modelling estimated likely changes in river discharge as a result of land-use change in the Southern River catchment in Western Australia, underlined by a highly transmissive aquifer, has permeable soils and a shallow watertable. A significant increase in total annual discharge was predicted as a result of urbanisation area with the runoff coefficient rising from 0.01 to more than 0.40. In contrast with urban areas elsewhere, these changes were mainly due to a shift in the subsurface water balance, leading to significant reduction in evaporative losses from the soil profile and shallow watertable after urbanisation (from nearly 80 % of infiltration to less than 20 %). The infiltration of roof and road runoff and establishment of subsurface drainage adopted in local construction practice leads to higher groundwater recharge rates and subsequently groundwater discharge to the urban drainage network. Urban density and groundwater abstraction for urban irrigation most strongly influence the urbanisation impact on catchment fluxes. The results shows that urban development leads to a production of ‘harvestable’ water; and depending on local needs, this water could be used for public and private water supply or to improve environmental flows.

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We thank the CSIRO National Research Flagship Water for a Healthy Country and the Western Australian Water Foundation for funding provided through the project ‘Investigation of Techniques to Better Manage Western Australia’s Non-Potable Water Resources’. We would like to thank Drs Sorab Panday, Vivek Bedekar and Ted Lillys of Hydrogeologic for assistance with modelling and Dr Sonja Chandler for her contribution to this paper preparation.

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Correspondence to O. V. Barron.

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Barron, O.V., Donn, M.J. & Barr, A.D. Urbanisation and Shallow Groundwater: Predicting Changes in Catchment Hydrological Responses. Water Resour Manage 27, 95–115 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-012-0168-0

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  • Land use change
  • Urban
  • Surface and groundwater interaction
  • Groundwater use
  • Drainage
  • Western Australia