Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 71–85 | Cite as

Small-scale and extensive hydrogeomorphic modification and water redistribution in a desert city and implications for regional nitrogen removal



There are numerous examples of small-scale hydrogeomorphic manipulations within urban ecosystems. These modifications are motivated both by a need to handle storm drainage and by a human desire for aquatic ecosystems as places for recreation and aesthetics. In the Phoenix Arizona metropolitan area, two examples of these local modifications are artificial lakes and stormwater retention basins. Although lakes are not a natural feature of Sonoran Desert ecosystems, numerous artificial lakes are evident in the region. Retention basins are a common landscaping practice for preventing damage from rare but potentially large storm events. Here we attempt to quantify the heretofore unknown number and extent of these designed aquatic ecosystems and consider their potential impact on hydrologic landscape connectivity and regional nitrogen (N) removal. For lakes, we found that official GIS layers from local and state agencies had significant misclassifications and omissions. We used two published GIS datasets and state impoundment-permit information to determine the number, areal extent, and water source for artificial lakes. We discovered that there are 908–1,390 lakes in the Phoenix area, with the number varying according to level of aggregation. There are no existing GIS data on retention basins, so we employed drywell-permit data to estimate that there may be 10,000 retention basins in the region. Basic data on N stocks in these ecosystems are discussed within the context of the regional N budget. Accurate data on the extent and distribution of these designed ecosystems will be vital for water-resources planning and stormwater management.


Urban ecology Phoenix, AZ Artificial lakes Stormwater retention basins Drywells Nitrogen 



This work would not have been possible without field and laboratory help from John Schampel, Kris Gade, Kayla Graham, Bony Ahmed, Sarah Moratto, and Katelyn Parady. Thanks to Kymberly Luttermoser from AZ Department of Water Resources for data and information on AZ regulations. Thanks to Carrolette Winstead from AZ Department of Environmental Quality for drywell data and assistance. Many thanks to Jessica Block for assistance with GIS analyses. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 987612, IGERT in Urban Ecology, and Grant No. DEB-0423704, Central Arizona – Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Urban Ecology Research Laboratory, College of Built EnvironmentsUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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