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A Comprehensive Land-Use/Hydrological Modeling System for Scenario Simulations in the Elbow River Watershed, Alberta, Canada

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The Elbow River watershed in Alberta covers an area of 1,238 km2 and represents an important source of water for irrigation and municipal use. In addition to being located within the driest area of southern Canada, it is also subjected to considerable pressure for land development due to the rapid population growth in the City of Calgary. In this study, a comprehensive modeling system was developed to investigate the impact of past and future land-use changes on hydrological processes considering the complex surface–groundwater interactions existing in the watershed. Specifically, a spatially explicit land-use change model was coupled with MIKE SHE/MIKE 11, a distributed physically based catchment and channel flow model. Following a rigorous sensitivity analysis along with the calibration and validation of these models, four land-use change scenarios were simulated from 2010 to 2031: business as usual (BAU), new development concentrated within the Rocky View County (RV-LUC) and in Bragg Creek (BC-LUC), respectively, and development based on projected population growth (P-LUC). The simulation results reveal that the rapid urbanization and deforestation create an increase in overland flow, and a decrease in evapotranspiration (ET), baseflow, and infiltration mainly in the east sub-catchment of the watershed. The land-use scenarios affect the hydrology of the watershed differently. This study is the most comprehensive investigation of its nature done so far in the Elbow River watershed. The results obtained are in accordance with similar studies conducted in Canadian contexts. The proposed modeling system represents a unique and flexible framework for investigating a variety of water related sustainability issues.

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This project was funded by a research grant awarded to D. J. Marceau by Tecterra and by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD). We thank DHI Water and Environment Canada who provided technical support and in-kind contributions. We thank Mr. Cheng Zhang from the University of Calgary for producing the historical land-use maps used in the project. We also thank Sarah Hamza, Rob Dunn, Ralph Wright, Dr. Stephen Sheppard, David J. Spies, and Tony Brierley for providing valuable data, feedback, and assistance to our study. Finally, we thank the anonymous reviewers for their thorough and constructive comments.

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Correspondence to Gayan Nishad Wijesekara.



See Table 6 and Fig. 14.

Table 6 Data and parameters used for configuring the hydrological model
Fig. 14
figure 14

(Appendix A): Geological unit distribution of the sand (a) and clay/till (b) layers. Bedrock is a uniformly distributed constant at the value “4” for the entire area

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Wijesekara, G.N., Farjad, B., Gupta, A. et al. A Comprehensive Land-Use/Hydrological Modeling System for Scenario Simulations in the Elbow River Watershed, Alberta, Canada. Environmental Management 53, 357–381 (2014).

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