How is baseflow index (bfi) impacted by water resource management practices?

John P. Bloomfield*, Mengyi Gong, Benjamin P. Marchant, Gemma Coxon, Nans Addor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

Water resource management (WRM) practices, such as groundwater and surface water abstractions and effluent discharges, may impact baseflow. Here the CAMELS-GB large-sample hydrology dataset is used to assess the impacts of such practices on Baseflow Index (BFI) using statistical models of 429 catchments from Great Britain. Two complementary modelling schemes, multiple linear regression (LR) and machine learning (random forests, RF), are used to investigate the relationship between BFI and two sets of covariates (natural covariates only and a combined set of natural and WRM covariates). The LR and RF models show good agreement between explanatory covariates. In all models, the extent of fractured aquifers, clay soils, non-aquifers, and crop cover in catchments, catchment topography, and aridity are significant or important natural covariates in explaining BFI. When WRM terms are included, groundwater abstraction is significant or the most important WRM covariate in both modelling schemes, and effluent discharge to rivers is also identified as significant or influential, although natural covariates still provide the main explanatory power of the models. Surface water abstraction is a significant covariate in the LR model but of only minor importance in the RF model. Reservoir storage covariates are not significant or are unimportant in both the LR and RF models for this large-sample analysis. Inclusion of WRM terms improves the performance of some models in specific catchments. The LR models of high BFI catchments with relatively high levels of groundwater abstraction show the greatest improvements, and there is some evidence of improvement in LR models of catchments with moderate to high effluent discharges. However, there is no evidence that the inclusion of the WRM covariates improves the performance of LR models for catchments with high surface water abstraction or that they improve the performance of the RF models. These observations are discussed within a conceptual framework for baseflow generation that incorporates WRM practices. A wide range of schemes and measures are used to manage water resources in the UK. These include conjunctive-use and low-flow alleviation schemes and hands-off flow measures. Systematic information on such schemes is currently unavailable in CAMELS-GB, and their specific effects on BFI cannot be constrained by the current study. Given the significance or importance of WRM terms in the models, it is recommended that information on WRM, particularly groundwater abstraction, should be included where possible in future large-sample hydrological datasets and in the analysis and prediction of BFI and other measures of baseflow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5355-5379
Number of pages25
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Volume25
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
John P. Bloomfield and Benjamin P. Marchant publish with the permission of the director, British Geological Survey (Natural Environment Research Council, UKRI)

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 John P. Bloomfield et al.

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