Urbanization is increasing rapidly and has the potential to alter the hydrologic cycle. It is uncertain if hydrologic alteration metrics developed for large-scale analyses detect the impacts of urbanization. This study tests the ability of two such methods, Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration (IHA) and streamflow signatures, to detect the effects of urbanization in two watersheds in the southeastern U.S.A. A hydrologic model (HEC-HMS) was used to simulate flows in ungauged upstream tributaries to determine if analysis of flow from a large gauged watershed detects urbanization effects on upstream tributaries. IHA analysis detected trends in time in the watersheds, but the results were the opposite of what would be expected as urbanization increased minimum flows, decreased maximum flows, and decreased flashiness based on the trend in time and comparison with an undeveloped watershed. IHA parameters were more sensitive to urbanization than streamflow signatures. Subcatchments that transitioned from low to moderate or high levels of urbanization had greater levels of hydrologic alteration than was detected at the watershed outlet. Analyses of stream gauge network data may underestimate the importance of urbanization as a watershed characteristic due to scale issues, the variable effects of water management, and the dynamic nature of urbanization.
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