Causal effect of impervious cover on annual flood magnitude for the United States

Geophysical Research Letters
By: , and 



Despite consensus that impervious surfaces increase flooding, the magnitude of the increase remains uncertain. This uncertainty largely stems from the challenge of isolating the effect of changes in impervious cover separate from other factors that also affect flooding. To control for these factors, prior study designs rely on either temporal or spatial variation in impervious cover. We leverage both temporal and spatial variation in a panel data regression design to isolate the effect of impervious cover on floods. With 39 years of data from 280 U.S. streamgages, we estimate that a one percentage point increase in impervious basin cover causes a 3.3% increase in annual flood magnitude (95%CI: 1.9%, 4.7%) on average. Using 2,109 streamgages, some of which have upstream regulation and/or overlapping basins, we estimate a larger effect: 4.6% (CI: 3.5%, 5.6%). The approach introduced here can be extended to estimate the causal effects of other drivers of hydrologic change.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Causal effect of impervious cover on annual flood magnitude for the United States
Series title Geophysical Research Letters
DOI 10.1029/2019GL086480
Volume 47
Issue 5
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) WMA - Integrated Modeling and Prediction Division
Description e2019GL086480, 10 p.
Country United States
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