Detecting water yield variability due to the small proportional land use and land cover changes in a watershed on the Loess Plateau, China
Soil conservation practices have been widely implemented on the Loess Plateau to reduce severe soil erosion in north-central China over the past three decades. However, the hydrologic impacts of these practices are not well documented and understood. The objective of this study was to examine how water yield has changed after implementing soil conservation practices that resulted in changes in land use and land cover in a small agriculture-dominated watershed, the LuErGou Watershed in Tianshui City, Gansu Province, China. We collected 23 years of hydro-meteorological data along with three land use surveys of 1982, 1989, and 2000. The land use survey in 2000 suggested that the soil conservation efforts resulted in a 16D6%, 4%, and 16% increase in area of grassland, forested land, and terraces respectively over the two periods from 1982 to 1988 (baseline) and 1989 to 2003 (soil conservation measures implemented). Rainfall–runoff regression models developed for both time periods at the annual and monthly time steps were used to examine the significance of change in water yield in the second time period. The averaged annual run-off coefficient over 1989–2003 did not change significantly (at the alpha = 05 level) as compared to that in the period 1982–1988. However, we found that soil conservation practices that included re-vegetation and terracing reduced water yield during wet periods. This study highlights the importance of the precipitation regime in regulating hydrologic effects of soil conservation measures in a semi-arid environment. We concluded that adequately evaluating the effects of land use change and soil conservation measures on water yield must consider the climatic variability under an arid environment.