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Extreme hydrological events and the influence of reservoirs in a highly regulated river basin of northeastern Spain (Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies)
The Segre basin (northeastern Spain) is extensively regulated, through a dense network of dams, during the second half of the 20th century. This study assessed the impact of river regulation on the evolution of hydroclimatological extreme events across the basin during the past six decades (1950-2013). We assessed whether the occurrence of floods and hydrological droughts has changed, and whether these changes have differed spatially between the headwaters and lower areas of the basin. For this purpose, we employed a set of hydroclimatological indices in order to quantify the evolution of the amount as well as the frequency of quantiles of high precipitation and flood events. Changes in these variables were assessed by means of the nonparametric Mann-Kendall Tau coefficient.
New hydrological insights: Results reveal a general reduction in the occurrence of extreme precipitation events in the Segre basin from 1950 to 2013, which corresponded to a general reduction in high flows measured at various gauged stations across the basin. While this study demonstrates spatial differences in the decrease of streamflow between the headwaters and the lower parts of the basin, mainly associated with changes in river regulation, there was no reduction in the frequency of the extraordinary floods. Changes in water management practices in the basin have significantly impacted the frequency, duration, and severity of hydrological droughts downstream of the main dams, as a consequence of the intense water regulation to meet water demands for irrigation and livestock farms. Nonetheless, the hydrological response of the headwaters to these droughts differed markedly from that of the lower areas of the basin.