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What makes watersheds sensitive to forest disturbance?
  • Ben Livneh
Ben Livneh
Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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This presentation will explore land cover change impacts on hydrology, starting by posing the question: What makes a watershed sensitive to forest disturbance? Despite a long appreciation of the significance of forested watersheds to water supplies—supplying water to more than 180 million people in the U.S.—watershed sensitivity to forest disturbances remains difficult to predict. Individual studies have often contradicted long-standing understanding that forest disturbance leads to increases in total water yield. This research seeks to address the above question by linking a national-scale watershed database with high-resolution forest disturbance imagery. Results indicate that disturbance can caused significant changes (both increases and decreases) in water yield and streamflow timing. Watersheds exhibiting post-disturbance increases or decreases in water yield were found to be distinct from each other (p<0.05) and regional patterns of sensitivity are explored in the context of observable climatic and physiographic variables. The last part of the presentation will explore the development of a multi-algorithm sediment modeling system motivated towards understanding the impacts of changing climate and land cover on sediment yield. Sediment loading driven by current and future hydrological extremes challenges drinking water utilities’ ability to treat water to meet regulatory and public health protection goals. This framework is tested over medium sized (~1000 sq. km) watersheds, with the aim of a larger-scale analysis over the western U.S.