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Impacts of reforestation upon sediment load and water outflow in the Lower Yazoo River Watershed, Mississippi

Ouyang, Ying, Leininger, Theodor D., Moran, Matt
Ecological engineering 2013 v.61 pp. 394-406
agricultural land, forests, humans, models, pollution load, reforestation, rivers, runoff, seasonal variation, sediment yield, sediments, soil erosion, streams, summer, surface water, water flow, watersheds, winter, Mississippi, Mississippi River
Among the world's largest coastal and river basins, the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley (LMRAV) is one of the most disturbed by human activities. This study ascertained the impacts of reforestation on water outflow attenuation (i.e., water flow out of the watershed outlet) and sediment load reduction in the Lower Yazoo River Watershed (LYRW) within the LMRAV using the US-EPA's BASINS-HSPF model. The model was calibrated and validated with available experimental data prior to its application. Two simulation scenarios were then performed: one was chosen to predict the water outflow and sediment load without reforestation and the other was selected to project the potential impacts of reforestation upon water outflow attenuation and sediment load reduction following the conversion of 25, 50, 75, and 100% of the agricultural lands with most lands near or in the batture of the streams. Comparison of the two simulation scenarios (i.e., with and without reforestation) showed that a conversion of agricultural land into forests attenuated water outflow and reduced sediment load. In general, a two-fold increase in forest land area resulted in approximately a two-fold reduction in annual water outflow volume and sediment load mass, which occurred because forests absorb water and reduce surface water runoff and prevent soil erosion. On average, over a 10-year simulation, the specific water outflow attenuation and sediment load reduction were, respectively, 250m3/ha/y and 4.02metric ton/ha/y. Seasonal variations of water outflow attenuation and sediment load reduction occurred with the maximum attenuation/reduction in winter and the minimum attenuation/reduction in summer. Our load duration curve analysis further confirmed that an increase in forest land area reduced the likelihood of a given sediment load out of the watershed outlet. This study suggests that reforestation in or around the batture of streams is a useful practice for water outflow attenuation and sediment load reduction.