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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9200
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

This research is no longer active. 
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Urban Streams and Runoff

Research Issue

[photo:] Small base flow in underground street pipeUrban streams are intimately connected to their landscapes through highly engineered drainage networks, resulting in excessive stormwater runoff (from roofs, streets, parking lots), lower groundwater levels and increased loads of many kinds of urban pollutants (e.g., pathogens, metals, deicers, nutrients.)   This leads to water quality problems (e.g., dissolved oxygen deficits, toxics, sediment), and damaged riparian areas, civil infrastructure and aquatic habitats and communities.  This “urban stream syndrome” presents a challenge for managers seeking to minimize degradation of streams so that these are available to people in both a recreational and ecosystem services context.

Our Research

These studies of urban streams are focused on stream water quality as well as the catchment drainage infrastructure and its network of buried streams. Pollutant concentrations and fluxes are investigated through baseline and stormwater sampling with continuous flow recording by USGS & USFS/DPW gauges.  In a collaborative project, the USFS and Baltimore City DPW investigates the hydrology of two small “ultra urban” sub-catchments of Watershed 263 in West Baltimore.  Investigations of three suburban Cub Hill streams in Carney, Maryland, address stream-landscape interactions near the USFS eddy flux tower.  Over a wider spatial scale, using the full BES LTER stream network as well as those of Baltimore City and County, many streams are sampled to examine urban stream quality spatial and temporal dynamics, as well as hydrologic and land cover drivers.  The urban water budget work has started recently and is a UMBC Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education (CUERE) project that addresses the movement of water on and under the urban landscape, with particular attention to the role of urban infrastructure (water supply, storm drainage, and sanitary sewers) in altering natural hydrologic cycle functions.  This research is part of CUERE’s WATERS Test Bed project and is one of eleven environmental field observatories funded by NSF to advance the concepts of digital watersheds, sensor networks, hydrologic information systems, and design and operation of large-scale field facilities

Expected Outcomes

[photo:] High levels of storm water runoff flowing through culverts under a street in Baltimore, MDThe Watershed 263 data is being used to examine the long-term effect of BMPs and tree planting on runoff flows, chemistry, pathogens, and temperature over the course of a major ultra urban watershed restoration and greening-out effort, and is being used to calibrate a Storm Water Management Model (SWMM) runoff model and to augment an EPA-funded street sweeping study.  This work, in collaboration with local government monitoring, will illuminate long-term pollutant dynamics so that effects on ecosystem processes and services can be properly assessed, resulting in improved watershed management efforts, including stream restoration work.  Data from Dead Run was used to validate a Forest Service runoff model (UFORE-Hydro) and will play a role in further refinements of his model.  The water budget work will provide an understanding of the areas groundwater dynamics and how these play a role in a plethora of urban stream issues and management processes.

Research Results

These results suggest that urban catchments, with their mosaic of vegetated and impervious areas, can retain appreciable amounts of nitrogen, although the pollutant loads to downstream ecosystems for metals, nutrients, organic matter, etc. may be very large.  Work has shown that watershed scale processes are important in delivery of this nitrogen (e.g., droughts and wet periods).  Old ultra urban catchments, with their high impervious cover and pollutant loads, may be hotspots for nutrient and metal delivery to streams that were heretofore unappreciated.

Shields, Catherine A.,  Lawrence E. Band, Neely Law, Peter M. Groffman, Sujay S. Kaushal, Katerina Savvas, Gary T. Fisher, Kenneth T. Belt.  (In Press.)  Streamflow distribution of non-point source nitrogen export from urban-rural catchments in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Gresens, Susan E., Kenneth T. Belt, Jamie A. Tang, Daniel C. Gwinn, Patricia A. Banks.  2007.  Temporal and spatial responses of Chironomidae (Diptera) and other benthic invertebrates to urban stormwater runoff.  Hydrobiologia (2007) 575:173–190

Pickett, S.T.A., K.T. Belt, M.F. Galvin, P.M. Groffman, J.M. Grove, D.C. Outen, R.V. Pouyat, W.P. Stack, and M.L. Cadenasso.  2007.  Watersheds in Baltimore, Maryland: Understanding and Application of Integrated Ecological and Social Processes.  Journal of Contemporary Watershed Research and Education. 136:44-55.

Pouyat, R.V., D.E. Pataki, K.T. Belt, P.M. Groffman, J. Hom, and L.E. Band.  2007. Effects of urban land-use change on biogeochemical cycles. In pages 45-58, Canadell, J.G., D.E. Pataki, and L.F. Pitelka (eds.) Terrestrial Ecosystems in a Changing World.  The IGBP Series, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg-New York. 

Welty, C., A. J. Miller, K. T. Belt, J. A. Smith, L. E. Band, P. M. Groffman, T. M. Scanlon, J. Warner, R. J. Ryan, R. J. Shedlock, and M. P. McGuire.  2007. Design of an Environmental Field Observatory for Quantifying the Urban Water Budget, in Cities of the Future: Toward Integrated Sustainable Water and Landscape Management, Vladimir Novotny and Paul Brown, Editors. IWA Publishing.– International Water Association.

Kaushal, Sujay S.; Groffman, Peter M.; Likens, Gene E.; Belt, Kenneth T.; Stack, William P.; Kelly, Victoria R.; Band Lawrence E.; Fisher, Gary T. 2005. Increased salinization of fresh water in the northeastern United States. PNAS 102(38): 13517-13520.

Groffman, P. M., Law, N. L., Belt, K. T., Band, L. E. and G. T. Fisher.  2004. Nitrogen fluxes and retention in urban watershed ecosystems. Ecosystems 7: 394-403

Groffman, P. M., D. J. Bain, L. E. Band, K. T. Belt, G. S. Brush, J. M. Grove, R. V. Pouyat, I. C. Yesilonis, and W. C. Zipperer.   2003.  Down by the riverside: urban riparian ecology.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1(6):315-321.

Band, L. E., Tague, C. E., Groffman, P. M., and K. T. Belt.  2001.  Forest ecosystem processes at the watershed scale: hydrological and ecological controls of nitrogen export.  Hydrological Processes 15:2013-2028.


Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Dr. Richard Pouyat, US Forest Service, Washington Office Bioclimatologist
  • W. Stack, Baltimore City DPW
  • Kenneth Belt, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station Hydrologist
  • Dr. S. Kaushal, UMCES CBL Assistant Professor
  • Dr. P. Groffman CIES
  • Dr. L. Band UNC
  • Dr. D. Bain U Pittsburgh

Research Partners

  • Dr. L. Band, UNC Geography Professor
  • Dr. D. Bain, University of Pittsburgh Assistant Professor
  • E. Doheney, USGS MD-DE-DC Water Science Center Network Chief & Surface-Water Specialist
  • G. Fisher USGS MD-DE-DC Water Science Center Hydrologist, Surface-Water Specialist
  • Dr. U. Ghosh UMBC CEE Associate Professor
  • Dr. S. Gressens, TU Biology Assistant Professor 
  • Dr. A. Miller, UMBC GES Professor
  • Dr. C. Swan, UMBC GES Assistant Professor, N. Law, Center for Watershed Protection Watershed Analyst
  • Dr. C. Welty, UMBC Professor & CUERE Director

Partner Links

Last Modified: 10/03/2019

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[image:] First page of Effects of urban land-use change on biogeochemical cyclesPouyat, R.V., D.E. Pataki, K.T. Belt, P.M. Groffman, J. Hom, and L.E. Band.  2007. Effects of urban land-use change on biogeochemical cycles. In pages 45-58, Canadell, J.G., D.E. Pataki, and L.F. Pitelka (eds.) Terrestrial Ecosystems in a Changing World.  The IGBP Series, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg-New York. 

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