CIE Spotlight: Assessing the impact of drought and forestry on streamflows in south-eastern Australia using a physically based hydrological model

Rebecca L.
Rebecca L.

Title: Assessing the impact of drought and forestry on streamflows in south-eastern Australia using a physically based hydrological model

Authors: Brown, Stuart C.; Versace, Vincent L.; Lester, Rebecca E.; Walter, M. Todd

Source: ENVIRONMENTAL EARTH SCIENCES, 74 (7):6047-6063, OCT 2015

Brief summary of the paper: An increase in plantation forestry has been linked to a reduction in streamflows in some catchments. Quantifying the relative contribution of this land-use change on streamflows can be complex when those changes occur during weather extremes such as drought.

In this study, the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model was applied to two sub-catchments in south-eastern Australia which have seen the introduction and establishment of plantation land use in the past 15 years, coinciding with severe drought (1997–2009).

The models were both manually and auto-calibrated and produced very good fits to observed streamflow data during both calibration (1980–1991) and validation (1992–2009) periods.

Sensitivity analyses indicated that the models were most sensitive to soil and groundwater parameterisation. Analysis of drought conditions on streamflows showed significant declines from long-term average streamflows, while assessment of baseflow contributions by the models indicated a mix of over- and underestimation depending on catchment and season.

The modelled introduction of plantation forestry did not significantly change streamflows for a scenario which did not include the land-use change, suggesting that the modelled land-use change in the catchments was not sufficiently extensive to have an impact on streamflows despite simulating actual rates of change.

The SWAT models developed by this study will be invaluable as a basis for future use in regional climate-change studies and for the assessment of land management and land-use change impact on streamflows.