Co-designed Land-use Scenarios and their Implications for Storm Runoff and Streamflow in New England


Landscape and climate changes have the potential to create or exacerbate problems with stormwater management, high flows, and flooding. In New England, four plausible land-use scenarios were co-developed with stakeholders to give insight to the effects on ecosystem services of different trajectories of socio-economic connectedness and natural resource innovation. With respect to water, the service of greatest interest to New England stakeholders is the reduction of stormwater and flooding. To assess the effects of these land-use scenarios, we applied the Soil and Water Assessment Tool to two watersheds under two climates. Differences in land use had minimal effects on the water balance but did affect high flows and the contribution of storm runoff to streamflow. For most scenarios, the effect on high flows was small. For one scenario—envisioned to have global socio-economic connectedness and low levels of natural resource innovation—growth in impervious areas increased the annual maximum daily flow by 10%, similar to the 5–15% increase attributable to climate change. Under modest population growth, land-use decisions have little effect on storm runoff and high flows; however, for the two scenarios characterized by global socio-economic connectedness, differences in choices regarding land use and impervious area have a large impact on the potential for flooding. Results also indicate a potential interaction between climate and land use with a shift to more high flows resulting from heavy rains than from snowmelt. These results can help inform land use and development, especially when combined with assessments of effects on other ecosystem services.

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This research was supported, in part, by the Highstead Foundation and grants from the National Science Foundation, including the Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research Program (Grant No. NSF-DEB 18-32210), and the Scenarios Society and Solutions Research Coordination Network (Grant No. NSF-DEB-13-38809). The authors would also like to thank Dr. James Dennedy-Frank for his helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Andrew J. Guswa.

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Guswa, A.J., Hall, B., Cheng, C. et al. Co-designed Land-use Scenarios and their Implications for Storm Runoff and Streamflow in New England. Environmental Management (2020).

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  • Land-use change
  • Ecosystem services
  • Storm runoff
  • Streamflow
  • Landscape scenarios
  • New England