Partitioning the impacts of spatial and climatological rainfall variability in urban drainage modeling
Abstract. The performance of urban drainage systems is typically examined using hydrological and hydrodynamic models where rainfall input is uniformly distributed, i.e., derived from a single or very few rain gauges. When models are fed with a single uniformly distributed rainfall realization, the response of the urban drainage system to the rainfall variability remains unexplored. The goal of this study was to understand how climate variability and spatial rainfall variability, jointly or individually considered, affect the response of a calibrated hydrodynamic urban drainage model. A stochastic spatially distributed rainfall generator (STREAP – Space-Time Realizations of Areal Precipitation) was used to simulate many realizations of rainfall for a 30-year period, accounting for both climate variability and spatial rainfall variability. The generated rainfall ensemble was used as input into a calibrated hydrodynamic model (EPA SWMM – the US EPA's Storm Water Management Model) to simulate surface runoff and channel flow in a small urban catchment in the city of Lucerne, Switzerland. The variability of peak flows in response to rainfall of different return periods was evaluated at three different locations in the urban drainage network and partitioned among its sources. The main contribution to the total flow variability was found to originate from the natural climate variability (on average over 74 %). In addition, the relative contribution of the spatial rainfall variability to the total flow variability was found to increase with longer return periods. This suggests that while the use of spatially distributed rainfall data can supply valuable information for sewer network design (typically based on rainfall with return periods from 5 to 15 years), there is a more pronounced relevance when conducting flood risk assessments for larger return periods. The results show the importance of using multiple distributed rainfall realizations in urban hydrology studies to capture the total flow variability in the response of the urban drainage systems to heavy rainfall events.