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Volume 22, issue 2 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 1051-1064, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 08 Feb 2018

Research article | 08 Feb 2018

Human influences on streamflow drought characteristics in England and Wales

Erik Tijdeman1, Jamie Hannaford2, and Kerstin Stahl1 Erik Tijdeman et al.
  • 1Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
  • 2Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, UK

Abstract. Human influences can affect streamflow drought characteristics and propagation. The question is where, when and why? To answer these questions, the impact of different human influences on streamflow droughts were assessed in England and Wales, across a broad range of climate and catchments conditions. We used a dataset consisting of catchments with near-natural flow as well as catchments for which different human influences have been indicated in the metadata (Factors Affecting Runoff) of the UK National River Flow Archive (NRFA). A screening approach was applied on the streamflow records to identify human-influenced records with drought characteristics that deviated from those found for catchments with near-natural flow. Three different deviations were considered, specifically deviations in (1) the relationship between streamflow drought duration and the base flow index, BFI (specifically, BFIHOST, the BFI predicted from the hydrological properties of soils), (2) the correlation between streamflow and precipitation and (3) the temporal occurrence of streamflow droughts compared to precipitation droughts, i.e. an increase or decrease in streamflow drought months relative to precipitation drought months over the period of record. The identified deviations were then related to the indicated human influences. Results showed that the majority of catchments for which human influences were indicated did not show streamflow drought characteristics that deviated from those expected under near-natural conditions. For the catchments that did show deviating streamflow drought characteristics, prolonged streamflow drought durations were found in some of the catchments affected by groundwater abstractions. Weaker correlations between streamflow and precipitation were found for some of the catchments with reservoirs, water transfers or groundwater augmentation schemes. An increase in streamflow drought occurrence towards the end of their records was found for some of the catchments affected by groundwater abstractions and a decrease in streamflow drought occurrence for some of the catchments with either reservoirs or groundwater abstractions. In conclusion, the proposed screening approaches were sometimes successful in identifying streamflow records with deviating drought characteristics that are likely related to different human influences. However, a quantitative attribution of the impact of human influences on streamflow drought characteristics requires more detailed case-by-case information about the type and degree of all different human influences. Given that, in many countries, such information is often not readily accessible, the approaches adopted here could provide useful in targeting future efforts. In England and Wales specifically, the catchments with deviating streamflow drought characteristics identified in this study could serve as the starting point of detailed case study research.

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Short summary
In this study, a screening approach was applied on a set of streamflow records for which various human influences are indicated to identify streamflow records that have drought characteristics that deviate from those expected under pristine conditions. Prolonged streamflow drought duration, a weaker correlation between streamflow and precipitation, and changes in streamflow drought occurrence over time were related to human influences such as groundwater abstractions or reservoir operations.
In this study, a screening approach was applied on a set of streamflow records for which various...