Crossing-scale hydrological impacts of urbanization and climate variability in the Greater Chicago Area

Charles Rougé, Ximing Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper uses past hydrological records in Northeastern Illinois to disentangle the combined effects of urban development and climatic variability at different spatial scales in the Greater Chicago Area. A step increase in annual precipitation occurred in Northeastern Illinois during 1965-1972 according to climate records. Urbanization has occurred as a gradual process over the entire Greater Chicago Area, both before and after the abrupt annual precipitation increase. The analysis of streamflow trends at each gaging station is supplemented by the comparison of the evolution of streamflow indicators in a group of urban and agricultural watersheds, thanks to an original use of the Mann-Whitney test. Results suggest that urban expansion in the Greater Chicago Area has led to widespread increases in a wide variety of streamflow metrics, with the exceptions being spring flows and some of the peak flow indicators. The increases detected in small (<100km 2 ) urban watersheds are mitigated in large (>200km 2 ) ones, over which the changes in streamflow are relatively homogeneous. While the impacts of land-use change are identified across a wide range of flow indicators and spatial scales, there are indications that some of these effects are mitigated or made negligible by other factors. For example, while impervious surfaces are found to increase flooding, stormwater management facilities, an adaptation to increased flooding, mitigate their impacts at a wide range of scales. While impervious surfaces are known to reduce infiltration and baseflow, a low flow increase was triggered by water withdrawals from Lake Michigan, as a response to a rising water demand which made on-site groundwater extraction unsustainable. Our analysis thus highlights the impacts of adaptive planning and management of water resources on urban hydrology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-27
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Sep 9 2014


  • Climate variability and change
  • Greater Chicago
  • Human interferences
  • Hydrological change
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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