Articles | Volume 6, issue 3
30 Jun 2002
30 Jun 2002

The influence of riparian-hyporheic zone on the hydrological responses in an intermittent stream

A. Butturini, S. Bernal, S. Sabater, and F. Sabater

Abstract. Stream and riparian groundwater hydrology has been studied in a small intermittent stream draining a forested catchment for a system representative of a Mediterranean climate. The relationship between precipitation and stream runoff and the interactions between stream water and the surrounding riparian groundwater have been analysed under a wide spectrum of meteorological conditions. The hypothesis that the hydrological condition of the near-stream groundwater compartment can regulate the runoff generation during precipitation events was tested. Stream runoff is characterised by a summer dry period, and precipitation input explained only 25% of runoff variability over the study period (r2 =0.25, d.f.=51, p<0.001). The variability of precipitation v. stream runoff is explained partly by the hydrogeological properties of the riparian near-stream zone. This zone is characterised by high hydrological conductivity values and abrupt changes in groundwater level in summer. The summer dry period begins with a rapid decrease in near-stream groundwater level, and ends just after the first autumnal rain when the original groundwater level recovers suddenly. Within this period, storms do not cause major stream runoff since water infiltrates rapidly into the riparian compartment until it is refilled during the subsequent winter and spring; then the precipitation explains the 80% of the stream runoff variability (r2=0.80, d.f.=34, p<0.001). These results suggest that the hydrological interaction between the riparian groundwater compartment and the stream channel is important in elucidating the hydrological responses during drought periods in small Mediterranean streams.

Keywords: riparian zone, groundwater hydrology, runoff, intermittent stream, Mediterranean climate