The impacts of future urban growth on streamflow in the Mgeni catchment.
Natural vegetation has been converted to land uses, such as agriculture, commercial forestry and urban use, to meet increasing human demands for food, fuel and shelter. These land use changes modify the surface conditions of an area, resulting in changes in hydrological responses. Urban land use, in particular, has a significant impact on catchment hydrology as a result of the increased impervious areas such as concrete, tar and roofs. To assess the future hydrological impacts of urban land use, the scale and location of future urban areas must be considered. The objective of this study was to assess the hydrological responses to future urban growth in the Mgeni catchment, South Africa. An urban growth model was used to generate scenarios of plausible future urban growth and these scenarios were modelled using a hydrological model to determine the hydrological responses to urban growth. The plausible future urban growth in the Mgeni catchment was modelled using the SLEUTH Urban Growth model (SLEUTH). The SLEUTH acronym stands for the input layers required for the model viz. Slope, Land use, Excluded areas, Urban Extent, Transport routes and Hillshade. SLEUTH is able to provide the scale and location of future urban growth required to assess the hydrological impacts of future urban growth. The data requirements and modelling procedure for SLEUTH is relatively simply and therefore it is well suited to a South African context. SLEUTH was calibrated and applied to the Mgeni catchment to project future urban land use. When assessing the 95-100% probability class, the results revealed that the Henley, Pietermaritzburg and Durban areas would experience the highest urban growth in the Mgeni catchment by the year 2050. The outputs of the SLEUTH Model for the Mgeni catchment showed a number of similarities to another application of SLEUTH in Cape Town. These similarities indicate the SLEUTH performs in a similar way for the two South African cities. Therefore, it was concluded that the SLEUTH Model is suitable to account for urban growth in the Mgeni catchment, as required for use in hydrological impact studies. The hydrological responses to urban growth in the Mgeni catchment were assessed using the ACRU model. The scenarios of plausible future urban growth generated by SLEUTH were overlaid with current land cover layers to generate maps of plausible future urban land use. The results showed extensive urban growth of >95% probability occurring in the Midmar, Albert Falls, Henley, Pietermaritzburg, Table Mountain, Inanda and Durban Water Management Areas (WMAs) by 2050. Increases in mean annual streamflows were observed in many of these areas; however the Henley, Pietermaritzburg and Table Mountain WMAs were shown to have greater increases in mean annual streamflow than the other areas that showed similar increases in urban growth, thus indicating that these WMAs could be particularly responsive to urban growth in the future. Furthermore, the results showed that the type of urban land use is important in determining the hydrological responses of urban land use, as the imperviousness differs between the different urban land uses. Streamflow responses were shown to be influenced by the scale and location of urban growth in the Mgeni catchment and specific areas, such as the WMAs along the Msunduzi River, were identified as potentially responsive to urban growth. Summer streamflows were indicated as being more responsive to urban land use changes than winter streamflows and increases in streamflows due to urban growth start to over-ride the impacts of other land uses which have substantial impacts on hydrological responses such as commercial forestry, and commercial sugarcane by 2050, whereas in other areas increases were mitigated by the presence of major dams. Lastly, it was shown that the type of urban land use, such as built up urban areas when compared to informal urban areas for example, have a significant impact on streamflow responses. These results are useful as they can be used to inform both water resources planning as well as urban planning to ensure that South Africa’s valuable water resources are protected.