Climate and agricultural land use change impacts on streamflow in the upper midwestern United States

Satish C Gupta, Andrew C. Kessler, Melinda K. Brown, Francis Zvomuya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Increased streamflow and its associated impacts on water quality have frequently been linked to changes in land use and land cover (LULC) such as tile drainage, cultivation of prairies, and increased adoption of soybeans (Glycine max) in modern day cropping systems. This study evaluated the relative importance of changes in precipitation and LULC on streamflow in 29 Hydrologic Unit Code 008 watersheds in the upper midwestern United States. The evaluation was done by statistically testing the changes in slope and intercept of the relationships between ln(annual streamflow) versus annual precipitation for the periods prior to 1975 (prechange period) and after 1976 (postchange period). A significant shift either in slope or intercept of these relationships was assumed to be an indication of LULC changes whereas a lack of significant shift suggested a single relationship driven by precipitation. All 29 watersheds showed no statistical difference in slope or intercept of the relationships between the two periods. However, a simpler model that kept the slope constant for the two periods showed a slight upward shift in the intercept value for 10 watersheds in the postchange period. A comparison of 5 year moving averages also revealed that the increased streamflows in the postchange period are mainly due to an increase in precipitation. Minimal or the lack of LULC change impact on streamflow results from comparable evapotranspiration in the two time periods. We also show how incorrect assumptions in previously published studies minimized precipitation change impacts and heightened the LULC change impacts on streamflows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5301-5317
Number of pages17
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

Bibliographical note

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© 2015. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • evapotranspiration
  • prairies
  • precipitation
  • row crops
  • streamflow
  • tile drainage


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