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The literature contains contradictory conclusions regarding the relative effects of urbanization on peak flood flows due to increases in impervious area, drainage density and width function, and the addition of subsurface storm drains. We used data from an urbanized catchment, the 14.3 km(2) Dead Run watershed near Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and the physics-based gridded surface/subsurface hydrologic analysis (GSSHA) model to examine the relative effect of each of these factors on flood peaks, runoff volumes, and runoff production efficiencies. GSSHA was used because the model explicitly includes the spatial variability of land-surface and hydrodynamic parameters, including subsurface storm drains. Results indicate that increases in drainage density, particularly increases in density from low values, produce significant increases in the flood peaks. For a fixed land-use and rainfall input, the flood magnitude approaches an upper limit regardless of the increase in the channel drainage density. Changes in imperviousness can have a significant effect on flood peaks for both moderately extreme and extreme storms. For an extreme rainfall event with a recurrence interval in excess of 100 years, imperviousness is relatively unimportant in terms of runoff efficiency and volume, but can affect the peak flow depending on rainfall rate. Changes to the width function affect flood peaks much more than runoff efficiency, primarily in the case of lower density drainage networks with less impermeable area. Storm drains increase flood peaks, but are overwhelmed during extreme rainfall events when they have a negligible effect. Runoff in urbanized watersheds with considerable impervious area shows a marked sensitivity to rainfall rate. This sensitivity explains some of the contradictory findings in the literature.




An edited version of this paper was published by AGU. Copyright 2011 American Geophysical Union.