Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Massachusetts
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Roy, A.H. and W.D. Shuster. 2009. Assessing impervious surface connectivity and applications for watershed management. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 45:198-209.


Although total impervious area (TIA) is often used as an indicator of urban disturbance, recent studies suggest that the subset of impervious surfaces that route stormwater runoff directly to streams via stormwater pipes, called directly connected impervious area (DCIA), may be a better predictor of stream ecosystem alteration. We evaluated the differences between TIA and DCIA in the Shepherd Creek catchment, a small (1.85-km2), suburban basin in Cincinnati, Ohio. Imperviousness determinations were calculated based on publicly available geographic information system (GIS) data and parcel-scale field assessments, and these direct assessments were compared to DCIA calculated from published, empirical relationships. Impervious and semi-impervious area comprised 13.1% of the catchment area, with 56.3% of the impervious area connected. When summarized by subcatchments (0.26-1.85 km2), TIA measured in the field (11-23%) was considerably higher than that calculated from the National Land Cover Data Imperviousness Layer (7-18%). In contrast, TIA calculated based on aerial photos was similar to TIA calculated from field assessments, thus indicating that photo interpretation may be adequate for catchment-scale (>25 ha) TIA determinations. While these GIS data sources can be used to calculate TIA, on-site assessments were necessary to accurately determine DCIA within residential parcels. There was a wide variation in percent connectivity across parcels, and, subsequently, DCIA was not accurately predicted from empirical relationships with TIA. We discuss applications of DCIA data that highlight the importance of parcel-scale field assessments for managing suburban watersheds.