Urbanization Effects on Stream Habitat Characteristics in Boston, Massachusetts; Birmingham, Alabama; and Salt Lake City, Utah
Terry M. Short, Elise M. P. Giddings, Humbert Zappia, and James F. Coles
Abstract.—Relations between stream habitat and urban land-use intensity were examined in 90 stream reaches located in or near the metropolitan areas of Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC); Birmingham, Alabama (BIR); and Boston, Massachusetts (BOS). Urban intensity was based on a multi-metric index (urban intensity index or UII) that included measures of land cover, socioeconomic organization, and urban infrastructure. Twenty-eight physical variables describing channel morphology, hydraulic properties, and streambed conditions were examined. None of the habitat variables was significantly correlated with urbanization intensity in all three study areas. Urbanization effects on stream habitat were less apparent for streams in SLC and BIR, owing to the strong influence of basin slope (SLC) and drought conditions (BIR) on local flow regimes. Streamflow in the BOS study area was not unduly influenced by similar conditions of climate and physiography, and habitat conditions in these streams were more responsive to urbanization. Urbanization in BOS contributed to higher discharge, channel deepening, and increased loading of fine-grained particles to stream channels. The modifying influence of basin slope and climate on hydrology of streams in SLC and BIR limited our ability to effectively compare habitat responses among different urban settings and identify common responses that might be of interest to restoration or water management programs. Successful application of land-use models such as the UII to compare urbanization effects on stream habitat in different environmental settings must account for inherent differences in natural and anthropogenic factors affecting stream hydrology and geomorphology. The challenge to future management of urban development is to further quantify these differences by building upon existing models, and ultimately develop a broader understanding of urbanization effects on aquatic ecosystems.