Stream burial—the routing of streams through culverts, pipes, and concrete lined channels, or simply paving them over—is common during urbanization, and disproportionately affects small, headwater streams. Burial undermines the physical and chemical processes governing life in streams, with consequences for water quality and quantity that may amplify from headwaters to downstream receiving waters. Knowledge of the extent of stream burial is critical for understanding cumulative impacts to stream networks, and for future decision-making allowing for urban development while protecting ecosystem function. We predicted stream burial across the urbanizing Potomac River Basin (USA) for each 10-m stream segment in the basin from medium-resolution impervious cover data and training observations obtained from high-resolution aerial photography in a GIS. Results were analyzed across a range in spatial aggregation, including counties and independent cities, small watersheds, and regular spatial grids. Stream burial was generally correlated with total impervious surface area (ISA), with areas exhibiting ISA above 30% often subject to elevated ratios of stream burial. Recurring patterns in burial predictions related to catchment area and topographic slope were also detected. We discuss these results in the context of physiographic constraints on stream location and urban development, including implications for environmental management of aquatic resources.
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