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Effect of urbanisation on the water balance of a catchment with shallow groundwater

Barron, O.V., Barr, A.D., Donn, M.J.
Journal of hydrology 2013 v.485 pp. 162-176
groundwater extraction, roads, urban areas, watersheds, evaporation, groundwater, urbanization, irrigation, surface water, drainage, runoff, hydrologic models, land use change, public water supply, groundwater recharge, aquifers, storms, construction industry, evapotranspiration, rivers, water flow, rain, soil profiles, water table, Western Australia
The impact of urbanisation on the water balance of a catchment dominated by surface water and groundwater interactions was investigated by using a process-based coupled surface water and groundwater model called MODHMS. The modelling estimated the likely changes in river discharge as a result of the land use change in the Southern River catchment in Western Australia. The catchment has both permeable soils and a shallow watertable. There was a significant increase in total annual discharge from the urbanised area where the runoff coefficient rose from 0.01 to more than 0.40. However in contrast with urban areas elsewhere these changes were mainly due to a shift in the subsurface water balance, including both groundwater and the unsaturated zone due to specifics of local hydrogeological conditions and adopted practice of storm runoff management. Due to the highly permeable soils, it is also common practice in the local building industry to direct runoff from roofs and roads into the soil and thereby the unconfined aquifer. Urbanisation results in particularly large changes in evapotranspiration from the soil profile and shallow watertable. The total subsurface evaporative flux reduced from 90% of infiltration (or 63–68% rainfall) to less than 29% (or 20% of rainfall) after urbanisation. Up to 83% (or 443mm) of the pre-development evapotranspiration flux was from the shallow watertable. The requirement to control groundwater levels with drains in the shallow unconfined aquifer as well as the introduction of impervious surfaces caused a significant reduction of this component of evapotranspiration to less than 154mm. These combined with an increase in infiltration rates, due to the direct infiltration of roof and road runoff, lead to higher groundwater recharge rates and subsequently groundwater discharge to the urban drainage network. The magnitude of urbanisation on catchment fluxes is most strongly influenced by urban density and the rate of local groundwater abstraction, which is used for urban irrigation. The analysis highlights that urban development in such areas reduces evaporation and evapotranspiration and therefore generates harvestable water. Depending on local needs this water could improve environmental flows and water for public and private water supply.