Assessment of the impact of spatio-temporal attributes of wetlands on stream flows using a hydrological modelling framework: a theoretical case study of a watershed under temperate climatic conditions

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Wetlands play a significant role on the hydrological cycle, reducing flood peaks through water storage functions and sustaining low flows through slow water release ability. However, their impacts on water resources availability and flood control are mainly driven by wetland type (e.g. isolated wetland—IW—and riparian wetland—RW) and location within a watershed. Consequently, assessing the qualitative and quantitative impact of wetlands on hydrological regimes has become a relevant issue for scientists as well as stakeholders and decision-makers. In this study, the distributed hydrological model, HYDROTEL, was used to investigate the role and impact of the geographic distribution of isolated and RWs on stream flows of the Becancour River watershed of the St Lawrence Lowlands, Quebec, Canada. The model was set up and calibrated using available datasets (i.e. DEM, soil, wetland distribution, climate, land cover, and hydrometeorological data for the 1969–2010 period). Different wetland theoretical location tests (WTLT) were simulated. Results were used to determine whether stream flow parameters, related to peak flows and low flows, were related to: (i) geographic location of wetlands, (ii) typology of wetlands, and (iii) seasonality. The contribution of a particular wetland was assessed using intrinsic characteristics (e.g. surface area, typology) and extrinsic factors (e.g. location in the watershed landscape and seasonality). Through these investigations, the results suggest, to some extent, that both IWs and RWs impact landscape hydrology. The more IWs are located in the upper part of the watershed, the greater their effect on both on high flow damping and low flow support seems to be. The more RWs are connected to a main stream, the greater their effect is. Our modelling results indicate that local landscape conditions may influence the wetland effect; promoting or limiting their efficiency, and thus their impacts on stream flows depend on a combined effect of wetland and landscape attributes. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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