Distribution of surface imperviousness in small urban catchments predicts runoff peak flows and stream flashiness

Babak K. Roodsari, David G. Chandler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Urban growth is a global phenomenon, and the associated impacts on hydrology from land development are expected to increase, especially in peri-urban catchments. It is well understood that greater peak flows and higher stream flashiness are associated with increased surface imperviousness and storm location. However, the effect of the distribution of impervious areas on runoff peak flow response and stream flashiness of peri-urban catchments has not been well studied. In this study, a new geometric index, Relative Nearness of Imperviousness to the Catchment Outlet (RNICO), is defined to correlate imperviousness distribution of peri-urban catchments with runoff peak flows and stream flashiness. Study sites include 21 suburban catchments in New York representing a range of drainage area from 5 to 189 km2 and average imperviousness from 10% to 48%. On the basis of RNICO, all development patterns are divided into 3 classes: upstream, centralized, and downstream. Results showed an obvious increase in runoff peak flows and decrease in time to peak when moving from upstream to centralized and downstream urbanization classes. This indicates that RNICO is an effective tool for classifying urban development patterns and for macroscale understanding of the hydrologic behavior of small peri-urban catchments, despite the complexity of urban drainage systems. We also found that the impact of impervious distribution on runoff peak flows and stream flashiness decreases with catchment scale. For small catchments (A < 40 km2), RNICO was strongly correlated with the average (R2 =.95) and maximum (R2 =.91) gaged peak flows due to the relatively efficient subsurface routing through stormwater and sewer networks. Furthermore, the Richards–Baker stream flashiness index in small catchments was positively correlated with fractional impervious area (R2 =.84) and RNICO (R2 =.87). For large catchments (A > 40 km2), the impact of impervious surface distribution on peak flows and stream flashiness was negligible due to the complex drainage network and great variability in travel times. This study emphasizes the need for greater monitoring of discharge in small peri-urban catchments to support flood prediction at the local scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2990-3002
Number of pages13
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number17
StatePublished - Aug 15 2017


  • flooding
  • imperviousness distribution
  • peak flow
  • stormwater runoff
  • stream flashiness
  • urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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