Assessing the long-term effects of land use changes on runoff patterns and food production in a large lake watershed with policy implications

J Environ Manage. 2017 Dec 15;204(Pt 1):92-101. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.08.043. Epub 2017 Aug 30.


Effects of land use development on runoff patterns are salient at a hydrological response unit scale. However, quantitative analysis at the watershed scale is still a challenge due to the complex spatial heterogeneity of the upstream and downstream hydrological relationships and the inherent structure of drainage systems. This study aims to use the well-calibrated Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to assess the response of hydrological processes under different land use scenarios in a large lake watershed (Lake Dongting) in the middle Yangtze River basin in China. Based on possible land use changes, scale-dependent land use scenarios were developed and parameters embedded in SWAT were calibrated and validated for hydrological systems analysis. This approach leads to the simulation of the land use change impacts on the hydrological cycle. Results indicated that evapotranspiration, surface runoff, groundwater flow, and water yield were affected by the land use change scenarios in different magnitudes. Overall, changes of land use and land cover have significant impacts on runoff patterns at the watershed scale in terms of both the total water yield (i.e., groundwater flow, surface runoff, and interflow, minus transmission losses) and the spatial distribution of runoff. The changes in runoff distribution were resulted in opposite impacts within the two land use scenarios including forest and agriculture. Water yield has a decrease of 1.8 percent in the forest-prone landscape scenario and an increase of 4.2 percent in the agriculture-rich scenario during the simulated period. Surface runoff was the most affected component in the hydrological cycle. Whereas surface runoff as part of water yield has a decrease of 8.2 percent in the forest- prone landscape scenario, there is an increase of 8.6 percent in the agriculture-rich landscape scenario. Different runoff patterns associated with each land use scenario imply the potential effect on flood or drought mitigation policy. Based on the results, key areas were identified to show that hydrological extreme mitigation and flood control can be coordinated by some land use regulations.

Keywords: Hydrological processes; Lake Dongting; Land use scenarios; SWAT; Sustainable development; Watershed management.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • China
  • Floods
  • Groundwater*
  • Hydrology*
  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Soil
  • Time
  • Water Movements


  • Soil