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Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250



Effects on runoff caused by changes in land cover in a Brazilian

southeast basin: evaluation by HEC‑HMS and HEC‑GEOHMS
Thalita Costa de Moraes1 · Vitor Juste dos Santos2 · Maria Lúcia Calijuri2 · Fillipe Tamiozzo Pereira Torres3

Received: 5 April 2017 / Accepted: 19 March 2018

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

The Southeast Region of Brazil has undergone major changes in land cover, especially after the eighteenth century. It is
currently the most populous region of the country, highly urbanized, with a high degree of industrial and agricultural devel-
opment. Extensive areas of native vegetation have been replaced by pastures, crops and urban areas, which have increased
runoff, causing environmental, economic and social problems related to flooding. The objective of this study was to analyze
effects of land cover changes in a basin with rural and urban characteristics on the flow of its main river. Hydrological data,
orbital images, soils and topographical maps were used for this purpose. Based on the land cover maps for the years of 1989,
2001 and 2015, and on the hydrological modeling performed using the Hec-HMS 4.1 software, scenarios were simulated
and showed that the land cover changes in this basin significantly affect the flow behavior of the main river. The simulated
runoff was calibrated using the data observed in the field during 2001, and validation was performed using data from 1989.
After the calibration and validation processes, a scenario was simulated where the rainiest month of the whole series meas-
ured by the rainfall station (during December 1989) acted on the land cover of 2015. There was an increase in pasture areas
and impermeable spaces in the basin, which caused a decrease in infiltration and an increase in surface runoff, and also an
increase in the flow peaks and a reduction in the time of concentration. The hydrological modeling was satisfactory, since
the uncertainties related to the simulation were low.

Keywords  Curve number · Flow rate · Hydrology · Hydrological modeling · Simulation


Much research is currently being conducted about the

impacts of land cover changes on the hydrological behavior
* Vitor Juste dos Santos of watersheds. These studies make this relationship using
vjustedossantos@gmail.com techniques such as remote sensing, geoprocessing, hydrosed-
Thalita Costa de Moraes imentological, and, in some cases, meteorological modeling,
thaliimoraes@gmail.com besides statistical analysis. However, despite the techniques
Maria Lúcia Calijuri and methods available, the relationship between land cover
lucia.calijuri@gmail.com and hydrological processes is complex, because changes in
Fillipe Tamiozzo Pereira Torres land cover affect several natural processes, such as evapo-
tamiozzo@ufv.br transpiration, surface runoff, infiltration, and precipitation.
Department of Civil Engineering, Pontifical Catholic All of these processes depend not only on land cover, but
University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro 22451‑900, also on other factors such as the size, topography, types of
Brazil soils and rocks, and other physical and natural aspects of
Department of Civil Engineering, Federal University watersheds (Calijuri et al. 2015; Deng et al. 2015; Bai et al.
of Viçosa, Av. Peter Henry Rolfs, s/n, Campus 2016; Chen et al. 2016; Kheereemangkla et al. 2016; Yan
da Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Viçosa, et al. 2016; Zare et al. 2016; Narimani et al. 2017; Vaighan
Minas Gerais 36570‑900, Brazil
et al. 2017; Worku et al. 2017).
Department of Forest Engineering, Federal University
of Viçosa, Viçosa 36570‑900, Brazil

250   Page 2 of 14 Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250

Due to the various factors and processes involved in historical series of precipitation on the land cover from a
the hydrological dynamics of watersheds, it is very com- recent year, where the rain was less intense and frequent.
mon to use hydrological models for studies in these areas. The objective was to evaluate the relationship between land
There are various useful hydrological models for evaluat- cover and runoff in the basin. To achieve this objective, the
ing the hydrological effects on changes in the environment following steps were performed: (1) satellite images were
with space–time detail, such as the SWAT (Soil and Water classified for the studied basin during the years 1989, 2001,
Assessment Tool), the WEPP (Water Erosion Prediction and 2015; (2) hydrodynamic modeling using rainfall data
Project), and the HSPF (Hydrological Simulation Program— from the years of 1989 and 2001 was performed, in addition
FORTRAN) (Zuo et al. 2016). These models require the to the calibration/validation of the main river basin discharge
feeding of various information, such as topography, types of data for the corresponding years; and (3) simulation of the
soils, land cover, precipitation, and flow data, among other effects of a precipitation event that occurred in 1989 on the
parameters. In addition, hydrological modeling is currently land cover in 2015.
being associated with data processing in Geographic Infor- This article is organized as follows: “Case study and
mation System environments, which was made possible by data” section presents the study area and the database used
the technological development of hardware and software in the case study; in “Methodology” section, the methodol-
and the evolution of data availability (USACE 2000; Kheer- ogy, software, and the methods required for modeling are
eemangkla et al. 2016; Worku et al. 2017; Narimani et al. described; in “Results” section, the results are presented;
2017). This has facilitated interactions between users and “Discussion” section contains the discussion; and finally,
software, which makes it feasible to conduct research that the conclusions are in “Conclusions” section.
was not possible decades ago.
One of these models is the HEC-GeoHMS, which was
developed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers
(USACE) in partnership with the Environmental System Case study and data
Research Institute (ESRI). This model has been developed
as a geospatial hydrology toolkit that is capable of using Study area
the interface to visualize information such as spatial data,
document watershed characteristics, perform spatial analy- The study area is located in the Southeast Region of Brazil,
ses, delineate sub-basins and streams, construct inputs for the most populous in the country and of great economic
hydrological models, and to assist with report preparation. importance that corresponds to 55.4% of the national GDP
It is used to predict runoff in a watershed by considering the (IBGE 2011). Located in the “Zona da Mata” mesoregion
influence of the watershed’s physical parameters, such as in the State of Minas Gerais, the study basin corresponds to
the climate, topography, land cover, and the soil data, which the Xopotó River, which is a tributary of the Pomba River.
represent the boundary conditions needed to simulate the This is one of the main tributaries along the left bank of the
runoff in the watershed (USACE 2009; Kabiri et al. 2015). Paraíba do Sul River. The Xopotó Watershed (Fig. 1) covers
The main advantages of these models are the possibility an area of 1276 km2.
of conducting research in large and complex areas, such as The cities situated in the study area have often been
watersheds, and in different situations and scenarios, includ- impacted by floods since the beginning of the twentieth
ing scenarios that were not tested by real situations. The century. As urban areas expanded, such cases became more
fact that these experiments were not performed in real situa- serious. The most recent and damaging occurrences were
tions lowers the costs of research significantly because of the in the years of 2010 and 2012, where some cities had seri-
higher operating expenses related to field surveys (Machado ous economic and social losses that included deaths (Fialho
et al. 2003). Some scientific articles that have addressed such and Santos 2012; Santos and Fialho 2012; Santos 2013a,
models have been growing in number over the last decades, b, 2014).
because they facilitate the environmental planning not only In addition to being an area where flooding is common, it
for the management of water and soil resources, but also for was chosen for study due to the dynamics of its land cover,
a range of other topics that are addressed in the environmen- which will be discussed in detail in “Land cover changes”
tal sciences, such as the zoning and management of land use section. During the last decade of the twentieth century and
and occupation (Huang et al. 2011; Bressiani et al. 2015). in the early twenty-first century, the Xopotó Basin under-
Considering the foregoing, the objective of this study went significant changes in land cover that were triggered
was to analyze changes in the main river runoff in a basin mainly by socioeconomic interests, especially in the urban
with rural and urban characteristics. Using the HEC- areas, pastures, and in tree vegetation. This last land cover
GeoHMS, hydrological modeling was carried out consider- type is composed mainly of secondary forests and eucalyptus
ing the effects of rain during one of the rainiest years in the plantations.

Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250 Page 3 of 14  250

Fig. 1  Xopotó basin location

The Xopotó Basin has an altimetric gradient of 1290 m the area of basin coverage has tectonic origin. In the past,
that ranges from 1513 m, in the highest areas, to 223 m in the area underwent arching that caused fractures and faults,
the lowest areas (Fig. 2a). The highest areas, which cor- which are responsible for the uplift of mountain ranges that
respond to the water dividers in the basin, are local moun- belong to the Mantiqueira complex, such as those of the
tains ranges that belong to the Serra da Mantiqueira com- Caparaó and Itatiaia mountains.
plex (Andrade 1961). Although, in a study made by Andrade The basin belongs to a region formed by rocks of meta-
(1961), the author admits that there is an intense erosive morphic origin, which are mainly schists, gneisses, migma-
action in the local morphogenesis, it can be observed that tites, and, to a lesser extent, quartzites and marbles. It also

250   Page 4 of 14 Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250

Fig. 2  a Topographical; b geological; c pedological and; d climatic characteristics of the Xopotó Basin

presents rocks of plutonic origin (Fig. 2b); in other words, mass movements. In these areas, soils are characterized
intrusive igneous rocks of predominantly granitic composi- by small depths, such as cambisols, and high erodibility.
tion. It is located in an area of irregular relief and low-lying The lower parts of the basin have mountain reliefs and a
crystalline plateaus, where river valleys cross successive topographical amplitude between 200 and 400 m, which
hills known as the “Mar de Morros” (the Sea of Hills) (Val- were formed by the rounded or elongated tops of hillsides
verde 1958; Ab’Saber 2006). with medium to high slopes, or by unconsolidated deposits
The water dividers in the basin are characterized by that favored the occurrence of mass movements, particu-
mountain escarpments with high altimetry amplitudes larly where human interventions occurred. These areas are
and high slopes, where the morphodynamic processes are predominately red–yellow latosols (Fig. 2c), widely used
intense, and favor the occurrence of erosive processes and for agricultural activities, and that undergo intensive uses

Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250 Page 5 of 14  250

that end up suffering serious erosive processes (AGEVAP the classifications was evaluated through application of the
2014). Kappa index as described by Silva et al. (2017).
Regarding the climatic characteristics, the upper parts of The Change Analysis tool in the Idrisi Selva 17.0 soft-
the basin are characterized as humid. They have three dry ware was used, inserted into the Land Change Modeler
months and average temperatures between 15 and 18 °C in module, which evaluates the land cover changes over time.
at least 1 month during the year. The lower parts are char- Land cover maps for the years of 1989, 2001, and 2015 were
acterized as semi-humid and have 4–5 dry months with evaluated using this tool.
average temperatures above 18 °C during all months of the
year (Fig. 2d). Average precipitation ranges from 1300 to Hydrological modeling
1550 mm with rainy summers and dry winters (AGEVAP
2014). The preparation of the hydrological model (Fig. 3) for this
study was performed using the ArcGIS 10.2.2 software
and the HEC-GeoHMS tool, which uses the SRTM image
Research data
(Azama et al. 2017; Knebla et al. 2005).
Essentially, the steps to be followed to organize this
Rainfall data were obtained from the government website
model are: (1) SRTM image processing, where the basin to
National Water Agency of Brazil (http://hidro​web.ana.gov.
be studied is delimited, and the entire watershed’s hydro-
br/), which was collected from a rainfall station located
graphic network is defined; (2) delimiting the sub-basins
approximately 2.3 km from the Xopotó Basin border. It was
inserted into the study area, in addition to defining the point
necessary to use a station outside the basin because the two
of exit for the entire surface flow in the basin (river mouth);
that were inside the border did not have enough recent data.
(3) defining the basin characteristics, such as the length and
For this reason, the nearest station that satisfactorily con-
slope of the water courses, among others, which are impor-
tained enough data for this research was chosen. For the flow
tant pieces of information for operating the model and for
at the mouth of the river, we used data from a fluviometric
the reliability of the data to be obtained; (4) evaluating the
station located at the confluence of the entire basin, which
possible model errors, correcting them, and creating a file
was also obtained from the HIDROWEB website.
in basin. format for later import of this model into the Hec-
The satellite images used to generate the land cover maps
HMS 4.1 software (Assis 2014; Salvador 2014).
were obtained from the website for the National Institute for
To investigate the influence of land cover on the pro-
Space Research of Brazil (http://www.dgi.inpe.br/CDSR/).
duction of surface runoff over time in the basin, methods
Landsat 5 (TM/ETM) images collected on July 15, 1989 and
sensitive to the changes in this coverage were adopted. The
September 10, 2001 were used, as well as Landsat 8 images
hydrological processes used were: (1) the infiltration/flow;
(OLI/TIRS), on August 26, 2015.
(2) flood propagation; and (3) the rainfall-deflution transfor-
The soil map for the State of Minas Gerais was used to
mation (Assis 2014; Salvador 2014). All of these processes
aid in curve number calculations and is available at http://
were simulated by Hec-HMS 4.1.
For the simulation of the infiltration/flow process, the SCS
To construct the model used for the hydrological sim-
Curve Number (SCS) method was adopted. This method
ulation, we used the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission
makes it possible to estimate the runoff from the rainfall data
(SRTM) image with a 30-m spatial resolution, which was
and the parameters for the basin. The Curve Number (CN)
obtained from the website of the United States Geological
values for the present study were calculated in the IPHS1
Survey (http://earth​explo​rer.usgs.gov/).
software for each of the three sub-basins. Representation of
the flood propagation process in the water courses was made
used the Muskingum–Cunge method. The transformation
Methodology of precipitation into runoff was simulated by the SCS Unit
Hydrograph method. These procedures were performed for
Land cover mapping the 3 years surveyed (1989, 2001 and 2015).

Land cover maps for the Xopotó Watershed were produced Calibration/validation process and uncertainty
using the satellite images and the ArcGIS 10.2.2 software. analysis
The images were classified through the Image Classification
tool using the Maximum Likelihood Classification method, The rainfall and runoff data of the month of greatest precipi-
which is a type of supervised classification (Foody et al. tation during the year 2001 were used for the model’s cali-
1992). The land cover classes defined were Arboreal Vegeta- bration procedure, and then, the validation was performed
tion, Underbrush, Urban Area, and Bare Soil. The quality of using the month of greatest precipitation during 1989. It is

250   Page 6 of 14 Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250

Fig. 3  Hydrological model of
the Xopotó watershed built in

also possible to use 1989 for the calibration procedure and The Nash–Sutcliffe Efficiency Coefficient (NSE) was used
2001 for validation; therefore, both ways were tested. After to evaluate the consistency of the simulation (Zounemat-
analyzing the outputs, the first one was chosen because it Kermania et al. 2017). Through the NSE, one can affirm
gave better results. the accuracy of the model by comparing the simulated and
The calibration was performed using the following three observed values. The value of this coefficient can vary from
steps: (1) simulation with the initial parameters; (2) manual − ∞ to 1, where a value closer to 1 indicates a better model
calibration; and (3) automatic calibration. Firstly, the initial fit.
parameters were used to calibrate the model. Subsequently, To evaluate the uncertainty of the model, Monte Carlo
from the generated graphs, the Curve Number, the Initial Simulations were used with Excel software, which is a
Abstraction, and the Lag Time must be varied to converge stochastic technique utilized to estimate the impacts of
to the best Flow × Time curve possible. This trial-and-error risks and uncertainties in the forecast models. With this
routine was carried out manually. After the manual routine technique, a scenario is chosen based on the probability
was completed, automatic calibration was performed where of the parameters occurring. For the Monte Carlo Simula-
the Peak-Weighted RMS error objective function was used tion, we used the minimum and maximum values of the
for the comparison and adjustment of the magnitudes and parameters that were calibrated in the Hec-HMS, Curve
times of the occurrence of flood peaks. Using the Univar- Number and Initial Abstraction. In this study, a uniform
iate-Gradient method, the parameters were automatically distribution was applied, which details the distribution
adjusted to minimize the value produced by the objective of the values. As a result, the values representing the
function (Assis 2014; Salvador 2014). degree of asymmetry of the intervals presented by the

Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250 Page 7 of 14  250

parameters, such as the skewness, mean, and the median, Results

are shown. Skewness values close to 0 are considered
symmetric. Values above 1 or below − 1 identify the pres- Land cover changes
ence of asymmetries (Shamsudin et al. 2011).
Figure 4 shows the mapping of land cover for 1989, 2001
and 2015, as well as a chart showing the changes over these
periods. The kappa indexes for these 3 years were 0.72, 0.77,
and 0.78, respectively, which indicates satisfactory scores

[1989] [2001] [2015]



Area in Km²




Arboreal Underbrush Urban Area Bare Soil
Land Cover

Fig. 4  Land cover evolution during the years of 1989, 2001, and 2015 in the Xopotó Watershed

250   Page 8 of 14 Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250

because a value closer to 1 indicates the best classification The month of December was the rainiest in 1989. One
quality. day in this month registered 139 mm of precipitation. This
Between 1989 and 2015, there was a decrease in arbo- day was then used to validate the previously suggested
real vegetation from 358.9 to 232.9 km2, which represents model, using the values of the parameters acquired during
a deforestation of 35%. In contrast, there was an increase the calibration process. Figure 7 shows the result for this
in underbrush from 897.6 to 998.8  km 2, an increase of year, where the peak occurred on December 22.
11.3%. Although urban areas only occupy 2.9% of the basin To quantitatively confirm the validity of the model, the
(37.5 km2), there was considerable growth (528%) during Nash–Sutcliffe coefficients must result in a value between
the studied period, which corresponds to an increase that is 0.5 and 1 to yield a satisfactory approximation. The calcu-
five times its size in 1989 (7.1 km2). The bare soils reduced lated coefficients were 0.623 and 0.606 for 1989 and 2001,
practically in half, from 12.4 to 6.8 km2, which represents a respectively. It can be inferred that the calculated curves
reduction in 45.2%. were adequate.
The urban areas and the bare soils increased and From the qualitative and quantitative analyses, the cali-
decreased, respectively, throughout the years. The arboreal brated and validated models reproduced the behavior of the
and underbrush vegetation did not change continuously, basin in the event of extreme rainfall with good agreement
where the first type of cover decreased between 1989 and with the observed values. There was some discrepancy
2001 and then increased from 2001 to 2015. For the sec- between the simulated and observed values during the ini-
ond type of cover, the opposite occurred, where it increased tial phase of events in both cases (1989 and 2001). How-
between 1989 and 2001 and then decreased from 2001 to ever, a good performance was observed from the beginning
2015. This was due, first, to the loss of forest areas to pasture of the rise of these two hydrographs. This is explained by
between 1989 and 2001. Thereafter, there was a recovery the objective function Peak-weight RMS error, which prior-
of forest areas growing on the pastures between 2001 and itizes the adjustment of the flood peaks during the model’s
2015 (Fig. 5). calibration stage. In addition, the underestimation of flow,
From 1989 to 2001, the loss of forests was not accom- especially for the case of 1989, was attributed to the high
panied by a gain, which resulted in large losses of areas calibration values for the parameter Initial Abstraction.
of this coverage type. A different situation occurred from The results for the Monte Carlo Simulation using the
2001 to 2015, where the losses were inferior to the gains of same value ranges that were used for the parameters Curve
forest areas. On the other hand, the pastures had a signifi- Number and Initial Abstraction in the calibration process
cant increase during the first period, while during the second are shown in Table 2. A total of 5000 trials were carried out
period, the losses were slightly higher than the gains. That is, using these parameters. The Lag Time was not considered
the losses and gains in arboreal and underbrush vegetation because the calibrated values were the same as the initial
have been conditioned to one another, where the urban areas ones.
and the exposed soils had little influence on these changes. It was observed that, even for a large interval between
The increase in forest areas during the second period was the minimum and maximum values of the parameters for
related to two factors. The first is the creation of Brazilian each sub-basin, the means and medians were close, with the
Federal Law 12.651/2012, which is known as the New For- exception of sub-basin 2 in the Initial Abstraction param-
est Code and establishes that rural producers should reserve eter, which presented a difference of approximately 10 mm
Permanent Preservation Areas or Environmental Reserve and a high Skewness value that indicates an asymmetry in
Areas on their properties. The second factor was the increase this parameter’s values. This same parameter for sub-basin 1
in the price of eucalyptus in recent years, which led to an also presented a Skewness value above 1, which represents a
increase in the planting of this wood in the region. slight asymmetry, but its mean and median remained close.
The rest of the results show satisfactory Skewness values.
These results show that the values between the intervals
Model calibration/validation and uncertainty of the parameters used are symmetric and slightly asym-
analysis metric values in the case of the Initial Abstraction for the
two sub-basins. Thus, the mean and median values serve
After the comparison between the simulated and observed as references for other simulations in the basin or in other
data, in the calibration process, it is possible to change the similar areas, which speeds up the calibration and validation
parameters of the Initial Abstraction, the Lag Time, and the processes in new simulations.
Curve Number. In this case, there was no need to modify It is likely that the high values of variance and asymmetry
the lag time values. The software suggested the variations found for the Initial Abstraction values in sub-basins 1 and
presented in Table 1. The optimized parameters provided a 2 are due to a lack of more consistent data because of the
new flow curve (Fig. 6). absence of more rainfall and runoff monitoring stations. The

Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250 Page 9 of 14  250

between 1989 and 2001 (Km²)

Gains and Losses

Underbrush Urban Area Bare Soil
Losses -166.63 -47.77 -1.2 -12.94
Gains 28.32 178.39 10.75 11.08

between 2001 and 2015 (Km²)

Gains and Losses



Underbrush Urban Area Bare Soil
Losses -69.15 -107.82 -2.22 -11.28
Gains 81.51 79.15 22.76 7.05

Fig. 5  Gains and losses between the periods of 1989–2001 and 2001–2015, and the changes between Arboreal Vegetation to Underbrush

250   Page 10 of 14 Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250

Table 1  Calibration parameters Sub-basin Curve number Initial abstraction Lag time

before and after the simulation
process Initial Optimized Initial Optimized Initial Optimized

Sub 1 74.62 37.167 100 338.43 216 216

Sub 2 82.38 52.993 100 338.44 108 108
Sub 3 81.66 36.975 100 128.99 334 334

Fig. 6  Observed rainfall (mm), 35

Rainfall (mm) Simulated Flow (m³/s) Observed Flow (m³/s)
and the observed and simulated
flows ­(m3/s) obtained after the 80
model’s calibration process, for
the period of November 10–30, 70

Rainfall Rate (mm)

Flow Rate (m³/s)

20 50

15 40


0 0

Fig. 7  Observed rainfall (mm), Rainfall (mm) Simulated Flow (m³/s) Observed Flow (m³/s)
160 160
and the observed and simulated
flows ­(m3/s) obtained after the
140 140
model’s validation process, for
the period of December 10–30, 120 120

Rainfall Rate (mm)

Flow Rate (m³/s)

100 100

80 80

60 60

40 40

20 20

0 0


presence of at least one rainfall station and one fluviomet- simulated and observed flow peaks used during calibration
ric station in each sub-basin would improve the results and and validation. The calibration and validation presents errors
reduce the uncertainty. for the simulated values that are below 10% of the observed
Scenario simulation As for the simulation of the scenario, Table 4 shows an
increase in discharge from 139 to 144.4 m3/s, or an increase
To demonstrate the influence of changes in land cover on of 3.4%, in the Xopotó River when the rain from December
runoff, the rainy event in 1989 was used to act on the land 1989 acted on the land cover from 2015. However, although
cover in 2015. Table 3 presents the summarized data of the the flow peak occurred on December 22 in both cases, in

Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250 Page 11 of 14  250

Table 2  Results for the Monte Parameters/statistics Curve number Initial abstraction

Carlo Simulation using the
same value ranges that were Sub 1 Sub 2 Sub 3 Sub 1 Sub 2 Sub 3
used for the parameters Curve
Number and Initial Abstraction Mean 56.11 67.81 59.61 223.39 224.88 114.14
in the calibration process Median 56.29 67.86 59.79 221.32 214.72 113.19
Minimum 37.17 53 36.98 104.01 103.65 100.09
Maximum 74.61 82.37 81.66 337.8 336.81 128.88
Range 37.44 29.37 44.68 233.79 233.16 28.79
SD 10.81 8.51 12.87 71.48 69.87 8.5
SE 0.34 0.27 0.41 2.26 2.21 0.27
Variance 116.91 72.46 165.73 5109.02 4882.22 72.31
Skewness 0.01 0.01 − 0.02 1.12 2 0.19
Kurtosis 1.78 1.79 1.81 1.70 1.70 1.75
Trials 5000 5000 5000 5000 5000 5000

Table 3  Simulated and Process Variables Simulated Observed Absolute dif- Percentage

observed flow peaks in the ference difference
Xopotó River (%)

Calibration 2001 Flow peak ­(m3/s) 28.0 30.7 2.7 8.8

Time of flow peak Nov. 19 Nov. 19 – –
Validation 1989 Flow peak ­(m3/s) 125.8 139.0 13.2 9.5
Time of flow peak Dec. 22 Dec. 22 – –

Table 4  Peak flow in the land cover in 2015 with the rain of 1989 compared to the observed flow of 1989
Process Variables Simulated scenario Observed (1989) Absolute differ- Percentage
ence difference

Simulation 1989/2015 Flow peak ­(m3/s) 144.4 139 + 5.4 + 3.4

Time of flow peak Dec. 22 Dec. 22 – –

the simulation, the increase in runoff occurred on Decem- could take place 1 day earlier, where an increase of 434.6%
ber 21, when it reached 142.1 m3/s, which represents an was estimated on December 21 upon comparing the simu-
increase of 434.6% in relation to the observed flow rate for lated scenario with the flows observed in 1989.
the 1989 land cover, of 32.7 m3/s (Fig. 8). The increase in The literature on the relationship between forest and
runoff occurred 1 day earlier. water shows that, generally, deforestation generates increase
in flows peaks and flood volumes in watersheds (Sahin and
Hall 1996; Andréassian 2004; Brown et al. 2005).
Discussion Some studies show that land cover changes influence
hydrological processes (Weng 2001; Kumar et  al. 2013
In the Xopotó Basin, there was a 35% reduction in forested Sajikumar and Remya 2015; Yira, et al. 2016; Zare et al.
areas over 26 years, despite a small recovery in the twenty- 2016; Worku et al. 2017). In these cases, the suppression
first century. On the other hand, there was an 11.3% increase of forest areas and native vegetation, and the expansion of
in pastures, and the sum of urban areas increased five times urban areas, agricultural and livestock activities caused an
their size in 1989. Therefore, the arboreal vegetation cur- increase in surface runoff and flow peaks. All studies used
rently covers 18.3% of the basin, the underbrush covers different models to simulate future or hypothetical scenarios
78.3%, and the urban areas cover 2.9%. This change in land based upon alterations to the land cover and the influence
cover resulted in an increase of 3.4% in the flow peak, in of these changes on the water resources of their respective
December 22, and it anticipated that the rise of the flow basins; this shows the usefulness of hydrological studies.

250   Page 12 of 14 Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250

Rainfall (mm) of 1989

Simulated Flow (m³/s) referring to the Rain of 1989 in 2015 Land Cover
Observed Flow (m³/s) of 1989
160 160
140 140
120 120
Flow Rate (m³s)

Rainfall (mm)
100 100
80 80
60 60
40 40
20 20
0 0

Fig. 8  Observed rainfall (mm) and flow (1989), and the simulated flow ­(m3/s), which refers to the rain from 1989 on the 2015 land cover, for the
period of December 10–30

Forests undoubtedly have an impact on the water balance, Conclusions

and therefore, on the discharges in basins. But this relation-
ship is not linear or predictable. Deforestation usually causes The results allowed the following inferences:
a reduction in the water yield, but the magnitude of this
reduction will depend on the natural characteristics of the • Modeling was satisfactory for calculating the river flow
basin. Also, the increase in flood peaks depends not only on in the Xopotó Basin. For the study to be replicated, only
deforestation but also on the intensity and the frequency of the data of the area of interest will be necessary, such
rainfall (Sahin and Hall 1996; Andréassian 2004). as the topography, pedology, land cover, runoff and the
In urban areas, the removal of natural vegetation and rainfall;
increase in impermeable areas can reduce infiltration; this • The tools used for this research are low in cost, which
reduces the time of concentration, increases runoff and flow facilitates the application of this type of modeling to
peaks, causing problems such as flooding, which leads to watershed planning;
serious socioeconomic problems (Weng 2001; Kumar et al. • Decreasing arboreal vegetation and increasing under-
2013; Zare et al. 2016). brush and urban areas evidently leads to an increase flow
This is the first study that addresses hydrological mod- peaks at the mouth of the Xopotó River. The simulation
eling and flow impacts due to land cover changes in the of rainfall during the year 1989 on the land cover from
Xopotó Basin. Thus, to improve the results of the hydro- 2015 shows that an event with a greater time of return
logical modeling in the basin, it is necessary to increase the has the potential to raise the flow peak and to reduce the
number of pluviometric and fluviometric stations along the concentration time in the Xopotó River;
sub-basins. Then, it will be possible to perform simulations • The model was found to be satisfactory when compared
with smaller uncertainties in relation to the values of the to the observed data even considering the small data-
calibrated parameters, which would present more symmetric base that was used. An increase in fluviometric stations,
values. Consequently, the errors related to the comparison of including along the Xopotó River’s tributaries, as well
the observed and simulated values during the calibration and as inserting pluviometric stations in the basin, would
validation processes will be reduced, which would result in improve the results of the model and the related uncer-
the increase in coefficients such as the Nash–Sutcliffe (NSE) tainties;
coefficient. • The model can be used by government agencies to simu-
In addition, long-term field studies are required for spe- late scenarios to predict the future impact of land cover
cific micro-catchments in the Xopotó Basin to assess hydro- on hydrological processes. In this way, programs related
logical and even sedimentological responses to changes in to flood risks can be more efficiently managed. There-
the land cover. However, it takes time to obtain reliable fore, it is extremely important to increase the number of
results. monitoring stations in the studied basin.

Environmental Earth Sciences (2018) 77:250 Page 13 of 14  250

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