Contrasting watershed-scale trends in runoff and sediment yield complicate rangeland water resources planning
Abstract. Rangelands cover a large portion of the earth's land surface and are undergoing dramatic landscape changes. At the same time, these ecosystems face increasing expectations to meet growing water supply needs. To address major gaps in our understanding of rangeland hydrologic function, we investigated historical watershed-scale runoff and sediment yield in a dynamic landscape in central Texas, USA. We quantified the relationship between precipitation and runoff and analyzed reservoir sediment cores dated using cesium-137 and lead-210 radioisotopes. Local rainfall and streamflow showed no directional trend over a period of 85 years, resulting in a rainfall–runoff ratio that has been resilient to watershed changes. Reservoir sedimentation rates generally were higher before 1963, but have been much lower and very stable since that time. Our findings suggest that (1) rangeland water yields may be stable over long periods despite dramatic landscape changes while (2) these same landscape changes influence sediment yields that impact downstream reservoir storage. Relying on rangelands to meet water needs demands an understanding of how these dynamic landscapes function and a quantification of the physical processes at work.