Quantifying the effects of stream channels on storm water quality in a semi-arid urban environment

Erika L. Gallo, Kathleen A. Lohse, Paul D. Brooks, Jennifer C. McIntosh, Thomas Meixner, Jean E.T. McLain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Stormwater drainage systems can have a large effect on urban runoff quality, but it is unclear how ephemeral urban streams alter runoff hydrochemistry. This problem is particularly relevant in semi-arid regions, where urban storm runoff is considered a renewable water resource. Here we address the question: how do stream channels alter urban runoff hydrochemistry? We collected synoptic stormwater samples during three rainfall-runoff events from nine ephemeral streams reaches (three concrete or metal, three grass, three gravel) in Tucson, Arizona. We identified patterns of temporal and spatial (longitudinal) variability in concentrations of conservative (chloride and isotopes of water) and reactive solutes (inorganic-N, soluble reactive phosphorous, sulfate-S, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen, and fecal indicator bacteria). Water isotopes and chloride (Cl) concentrations indicate that solute flushing and evapoconcentration alter temporal patterns in runoff hydrochemistry, but not spatial hydrochemical responses. Solute concentrations and stream channel solute sourcing and retention during runoff were significantly more variable at the grass reaches (CV=2.3-144%) than at the concrete or metal (CV=1.6-107%) or gravel reaches (CV=1.9-60%), which functioned like flow-through systems. Stream channel soil Cl and DOC decreased following a runoff event (Cl: 12.1-7.3μgg -1 soil; DOC: 87.7-30.1μgg -1 soil), while soil fecal indicator bacteria counts increased (55-215CFUg -1 soil). Finding from this study suggest that the characteristics of the ephemeral stream channel substrate control biogeochemical reactions between runoff events, which alter stream channel soil solute stores and the hydrochemistry of subsequent runoff events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-110
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Nov 12 2012


  • Carbon
  • Ephemeral stream
  • Nitrogen
  • Runoff quality
  • Stream channel
  • Urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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