Extreme hydrological events and the influence of - MEDACC

Extreme hydrological events and the influence of - MEDACC
Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Hydrology: Regional
Studies
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ejrh
Extreme hydrological events and the influence of reservoirs
in a highly regulated river basin of northeastern Spain
S.M. Vicente-Serrano a,∗ , J. Zabalza-Martínez a , G. Borràs b , J.I. López-Moreno a ,
E. Pla c , D. Pascual c , R. Savé d , C. Biel d , I. Funes d , C. Azorin-Molina a ,
A. Sanchez-Lorenzo a , N. Martín-Hernández a , M. Peña-Gallardo a ,
E. Alonso-González a , M. Tomas-Burguera e , A. El Kenawy f
a
Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (IPE-CSIC), Zaragoza, Spain
Oficina Catalana del Canvi Climàtic, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
c
CREAF, Cerdanyola del Vallès Barcelona, Spain
d
IRTA, Environmental Horticulture, Torre Marimon, Caldes de Montbui, Barcelona, Spain
e
Estación Experimental de Aula Dei (EEAD-CSIC), Zaragoza, Spain
f
Department of Geography, Mansoura University, Mansoura, Egypt
b
a r t i c l e
i n f o
Article history:
Received 23 June 2016
Received in revised form 16 January 2017
Accepted 29 January 2017
Keywords:
Droughts
Floods
Segre basin
Hydrological trends
Dams
Reservoir effects
a b s t r a c t
Study region: The Segre basin (northeastern Spain).
Study focus: The Segre basin 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.
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the
CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
∗ Corresponding author.
E-mail address: [email protected] (S.M. Vicente-Serrano).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ejrh.2017.01.004
2214-5818/© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
14
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
1. Introduction
Determining the occurrence of extreme events in the hydrological cycle is one of the main priorities of hydrologists and
water managers, as these events commonly have major economic, environmental, and social impacts (e.g. Kunkel et al., 1999;
Van Dijk et al., 2013). Under global warming conditions, the frequency and magnitude of extreme precipitation events are
likely to increase (Trenberth, 2012), due to the higher specific atmospheric humidity associated with the Clausius–Clapeyron
relationship (Santer et al., 2007; Trenberth et al., 2005; Allan, 2012; Westra et al., 2014). The most recent IPCC report
(Hartmann et al., 2013) shows that changes in precipitation extremes are consistent with a warmer climate. Nevertheless,
the report also emphasizes that changes in extreme precipitation events show low spatial coherence (Alexander et al., 2006;
Westra et al., 2013; Dittus et al., 2015).
Drought patterns are even much more difficult to determine (Vicente-Serrano, 2016). Seneviratne et al. (2012) highlighted
major uncertainties in the evolution of climate droughts worldwide. These difficulties are confirmed in a range of studies
that assessed drought trends at the global scale (e.g. Sheffield et al., 2012; Dai, 2013; Trenberth et al., 2014), highlighting the
need to analyze the evolution of extreme hydroclimatic events at regional scales.
Another important uncertainty is how extreme events propagate throughout the hydrological cycle, as climatic and
hydrological extreme events do not typically coincide in magnitude, spatial extent, and time. This feature can be linked
to topography (Lorenzo-Lacruz et al., 2013; Barker et al., 2015), previous climate conditions (Mediero et al., 2014), and
vegetation cover (Lana-Renault et al., 2012; Serrano-Muela et al., 2015). Other variables (e.g. landscape changes, water
regulation and management, etc.) can also complicate the response of extreme hydrological events to extreme climate
events, as reported in earlier studies (e.g. López-Moreno et al., 2006; Llasat et al., 2014; Mediero et al., 2014, 2015; Machado
et al., 2015; Crooks and Kay, 2015). Furthermore, while extreme rainfall typically occurs at daily or even sub-daily scales, with
notable regional or local effects, droughts are usually studied at monthly scales and tend to impact larger areas. Accordingly,
it is important to consider the distinct time and spatial scale of these two types of extreme events.
In the western Mediterranean region, there is an evidence of a decrease in the frequency and magnitude of extreme
precipitation events over recent decades (López-Moreno et al., 2010; Gallego et al., 2011; Valencia et al., 2012), while
there is an increase in the duration and severity of climate droughts (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2014; Spinoni et al., 2015;
Lorenzo-Lacruz and Morán-Tejeda, 2016; Coll et al., 2016). River floods have also decreased, as a consequence of changes in
precipitation, combined with higher atmospheric evaporative demand (AED) (Mediero et al., 2014) and increased vegetation
cover in the headwaters (López-Moreno et al., 2006). Hydrological droughts also showed higher increases in severity and
duration compared to meteorological droughts. This feature can be explained by the higher AED (Vicente-Serrano et al.,
2014), increased tourism, urban water demands, and the expansion of irrigated areas (Lorenzo-Lacruz et al., 2013).
In the Mediterranean region, the availability of water resources is critical (García-Ruiz et al., 2011). Managing water
resources in any Mediterranean reservoir must make balance between the need to store water for different water supplies
and uses, and the need to manage floods and their catastrophic effects (López-Moreno et al., 2002). This balance is critical,
especially during spring and summer, due to the high water demand and the high probability of extreme precipitation
events during these seasons. In this context, albeit with numerous studies investigating the effects of reservoirs on river
regimes and streamflows in the western Mediterranean (e.g. Batalla et al., 2004; Piqué et al., 2016; Vicente-Serrano et al.,
2016), only few studies have considered the joint effect of damming and reservoir management on the severity of floods
and hydrological droughts downstream.
In this study, we investigated the evolution of extreme climate and hydrological events in the past six decades across the
Segre basin (northeastern Spain). This basin, whose headwaters are located in the Pyrenees, has been highly regulated by
numerous dams during the second half of the 20th century (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2016). The main objective of this study
was to determine whether the occurrence and severity of floods and hydrological droughts have changed in recent decades,
and whether these changes have differed between the headwaters and lower areas of the basin.
2. Study area
The Segre basin is located in northeastern Spain, and its drainage area covers approximately 13,000 km2 . The basin has
three main rivers: the Segre River (8167 km2 ; the main tributary of the Ebro River), the Noguera Pallaresa River (2807 km2 ),
and the Noguera Ribagorzana River (2061 km2 ) (Fig. 1). The elevation ranges from 175 m, where the Segre River enters the
Ebro River, to more than 3200 m in the Pyrenees. The relief causes marked climatic and landscape contrasts in the basin.
In the Pyrenean headwaters, the precipitation exceeds 1100 mm year−1 , but in the southern lowlands the average annual
precipitation is <300 mm year−1 . Annual reference evapotranspiration in the headwaters is <600 mm year−1 , but it exceeds
1100 mm year−1 in the south. Climate and topographic factors are responsible for the remarkable landscape contrasts in the
basin. In the north, the dominant landscape units are alpine pastures and subalpine and sub-Mediterranean forests, including
Pinus uncinata, Pinus sylvestris, Fagus sylvatica, and Quercus sp. In the center of the basin (elevations of 800–1000 m), shrubs
and forests dominate in some areas, reflecting successional changes associated with the abandonment of the cultivated
slopes during the 20th century (García-Ruiz and Lana-Renault, 2011; Buendia et al., 2015). Irrigated agricultural occurs in
the lower part of the basin, facilitated by the construction of dams. The basin has 144,000 irrigated hectares, served by
the canals of Urgell, Pinyana, Aragón and Catalunya, and Segarra-Garrigues. Thus, agro-industries and intensive livestock
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
15
Fig. 1. Spatial distribution of gauge stations (black squares), precipitation stations (blue circles), and reservoirs. Background colors represent elevation.
Dashed lines represent the boundaries of the different sub-basins.
production are the main economic activities in the basin. The few remaining natural areas in the arid lands of the basin
correspond to the northernmost steppes of Europe (Braun-Blanquet and Bolòs, 1958).
In normal conditions, the Segre River shows a clear seasonal regime, with the main flows occurring during May and
June, due to snow melting and high springtime precipitation. However, in the lower part of the basin, the river regime is
highly modified, as a consequence of impoundment of the river as well as water management for irrigation uses and urban
supplies (Batalla et al., 2004; Piqué et al., 2016). Currently, there are 35 reservoirs in the Segre River basin, providing a
total storage capacity of 2084 hm3 (1 hm3 = 1,000,000 m3 ): a value which is very close to the average annual streamflow
recorded close to the mouth of the river (2130 hm3 ). Most water regulation occurs in the headwaters and the middle reaches
of the Noguera Ribagorzana River and the Noguera Pallaresa River, where the Escales (163 hm3 ), Canelles (687.5 hm3 ),
Santa Anna (236.6 hm3 ), Talarn (205.1 hm3 ), and Camarasa (163 hm3 ) reservoirs are located. The Segre River is regulated
by the Oliana (101 hm3 ) and Rialb (402.8 hm3 ) reservoirs; the latter was established in 2000. These reservoirs caused a
marked decrease (>60%) in the annual streamflow of the Segre River during the past six decades (Vicente-Serrano et al.,
2016).
The occurrence of extreme precipitation events is common in the basin (Llasat and Puigcerver, 1997; Beguería et al., 2009).
These events are associated with short-lived, isolated, and high-intensity thunderstorms in summer. In autumn, these events
are linked to the backward trajectories of the Mediterranean perturbations, which involve the occurrence of low level warm
and humid northeasterly and easterly flows, with cold continental air above cut-off lows over the Mediterranean Sea (Ramis
et al., 1997). In addition to these atmospheric configurations, extreme precipitation events are enhanced by the complex
terrain (Pastor et al., 2001), making some historical floods in the bas catastrophic, with serious environmental, economic,
and societal impacts (Arbiol et al., 1984; Barriendos et al., 2003; Thorndycraft et al., 2006; Llasat et al., 2009, 2010, 2013).
In northeastern Spain, climate drought periods occur frequently, due to the occurrence of low flows and hydrological
droughts (Vicente-Serrano, 2006; Lorenzo-Lacruz et al., 2013). In particular, some hydrological basins suffered from long,
intense and severe droughts over the last three decades, in response to the decreased precipitation and increased AED
(Lopez-Bustins et al., 2013; Vicente-Serrano et al., 2014).
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3. Data and methods
3.1. Data
The Ebro River Basin Management Authority (Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro) provided the daily streamflow data
for the Segre basin. The daily streamflow data for 11 gauge stations were chosen for this study because these stations had
less than 15% of missing data for the period 1950–2013 (Fig. 1). Gap filling was performed using a linear regression analysis,
in which the independent series were derived from the same rivers whose data were missing, or from nearby tributaries. The
minimum Pearson’s correlation coefficient between the series in the model was set to 0.6, following Lorenzo-Lacruz et al.
(1945–2005). As depicted in Fig. 1, seven gauge stations are located upstream of the main reservoirs (Puigcerdà, Organyà,
Arabó, la Seud’Urgell, Valira, la Pobla de Segur and Pont de Suert), while four are located downstream (Oliana, Pinyana,
Balaguer and Seròs). To determine the drainage basin corresponding to each gauge station, we used a digital elevation
model (DEM) at a spatial resolution of 100 m, and the r.watershed tool in GRASS (v.6.4). The drainage area of each gauge
station was defined as the upstream area from the headwaters to the gauge station. We also used monthly average reservoir
storages in the basin from 1950 as well as the reservoir capacity upstream the gauge stations located in the lower bound of
the basin.
Daily streamflow records were used to analyze the evolution of flood events, and monthly streamflow series were computed from the daily series to calculate hydrological drought indices. Daily precipitation series were obtained from the
Spanish and Catalan meteorological agencies (AEMET and SMC). A total of 432 stations with daily precipitation data were
available for the entire basin. The development of complete, quality controlled and homogeneous daily precipitation series is
essential for robust climate assessments. There are multiple approaches for gap filling and homogeneity assessment, which
were comprehensively revised and compared in Vicente-Serrano et al. (2010) for the entire Ebro basin (NE Spain). Here we
follow the recommendations of this research to develop a quality controlled and homogeneous daily precipitation data set
in the Segre basin. From the entire dataset (N = 432), only 52 candidate stations, with more than 30 years of data, were first
selected. The other series (reference series) were used to reconstruct and fill gaps in the candidate series. Daily precipitation series were transformed to quantiles, based on their empirical cumulative distribution function. For each candidate
series, we selected the nearest reference series (within a maximum distance of 10 km), with at least 3 years of common
data. The gaps in the candidate series were filled using the quantile values of the nearest available reference station. In few
cases where the candidate series could not be completed using the nearest neighbor series, the existing gaps were filled
using both reference and other candidate series up to a maximum distance of 25 km. This procedure provided complete
datasets for each of the 52 candidate series. From the daily precipitation series, we calculated the monthly sum to test the
temporal homogeneity of the series. For this purpose, we used HOMER (Homogenization in R) (Mestre et al., 2013), which
is based on the pairwise algorithm described by Caussinus and Mestre (2004) and a two factor ANOVA model for correction.
HOMER facilitates comparison of sets of stations, and estimation of the number and positions of their breakpoints. Few
temporal inhomogeneities were identified in the series (68), and the coefficients obtained were applied to those days having
precipitation in the month, according to Vincent et al. (2002).
We also used gridded monthly precipitation and monthly reference evapotranspiration (ETo), at a 500 m grid interval,
obtained using the equation of Hargreaves and Samani (1985). These gridded datasets were based on the MOPREDAS and
MOTEDAS datasets (González-Hidalgo et al., 2011, 2015), which are the most complete quality controlled and homogeneous
monthly climate datasets for Spain. Details of the procedures used to obtain and validate these gridded data have been
described by Vicente-Serrano et al. (2016). Using the drainage basin corresponding to each gauge station, we determined
the total monthly precipitation and ETo for the entire basin. This procedure enabled comparison of the average climate series
(precipitation and ETo) corresponding to the drainage area at each gauge station with the monthly streamflow data.
3.2. Analysis
3.2.1. Floods and extreme precipitation events
We quantified the trends in the percentage of annual streamflow corresponding to daily river flows of different magnitudes. For this purpose, we used the method proposed by Osborn et al. (2000), whereby streamflow values corresponding
to each 5th quantile unit were extracted from all the daily streamflow data for each gauge station. Using this procedure, we
classified the daily streamflow records into 20 categories. Then, we determined the contribution of the daily streamflow in
each category to the total annual streamflow, and analyzed the temporal trends in the contribution of each category using the
nonparametric Mann–Kendall Tau coefficient. Statistically significant trends were defined as those having p-values <0.05.
We also used this approach to determine changes in the percentage of annual precipitation corresponding to events above
the 95th quantile. In addition, we analyzed trends (Mann–Kendall tau coefficient; significance level: p < 0.05) in the annual
frequency of high precipitation (>95th, >99th, and >99.9th quantiles) and streamflow (>95th, >98th, >99th, >99.5th, >99.9th,
and >99.95th quantiles) events. Finally, to account for the possible influence of the reservoir capacity and the reservoir
storage upstream the gauge stations located in the lower bound of the basin, we related the annual frequency of days above
the 95th, 99th and 99.9th percentiles with the average annual reservoir storage, reservoir capacity and the ratio between
the reservoir storage and capacity.
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
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3.2.2. Drought quantification and analysis
Hydrological droughts were quantified using the Standardized Streamflow Index (SSI; Vicente-Serrano et al., 2012), and
climatic droughts were quantified using the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI; Vicente-Serrano
et al., 2010) at time scales ranging from 1 to 48 months. The SSI enables comparison of streamflow deficits and surpluses in
time and space, regardless of the magnitude of the series and the river regimes involved. The SSI is obtained by transforming
the monthly streamflow series into a dimensional series of standardized anomalies. To obtain a reliable SSI that encompasses
large variability in the statistical properties of the monthly streamflow data, the series were fitted to the most suitable
probability distribution, according to the minimum orthogonal distance between the sample L-moments at site i and the
L-moment relationship for a specific distribution, selected from the general extreme value, the Pearson Type III, the loglogistic, the log-normal, the generalized Pareto, and the Weibull distributions. More details on the calculation of the SSI are
provided by Vicente-Serrano et al. (2012).
The SPEI is a climatic drought index that can be obtained at various timescales, similar to the Standardized Precipitation
Index (SPI) (McKee et al., 1993); this is essential for identifying the complex response of hydrological systems to climate
variability (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2011; López-Moreno et al., 2013; Barker et al., 2015). Hydrological droughts usually
respond to different timescales of climate drought, as a function of environmental conditions (e.g. lithology, vegetation
cover, and management) (Lorenzo-Lacruz et al., 2013). The SPEI is based on precipitation and ETo, and incorporates the
sensitivity of drought severity to changes in AED in the multi-temporal nature of droughts based on a monthly climatic
water balance (P–ETo), which is adjusted using a three-parameter log-logistic distribution. The values are accumulated at
various time scales, following the same approach as is used for the SPI, and converted to standard deviations with respect
to average values. For this purpose we used the monthly total precipitation and ETo gridded series corresponding to each
drainage basin.
Using the SSI and SPEI, we defined individual drought events. This is commonly done by selecting a threshold in the
series (Fleig et al., 2006; Sharma and Panu, 2014). To define drought events, a threshold level that did not vary in time and
space was applied to the SSI series for each basin and the SPEI series. Nevertheless, the response of hydrological droughts
to the occurrence of climate droughts can be strongly complex. According to the topographic/lithological/management
characteristics of the basins, the time-scale of the climatic droughts at which the hydrological droughts are responding can
be very different (see for example, López-Moreno et al., 2013; Lorenzo-Lacruz et al., 2013). For this reason, before relating
the SSI and SPEI, we analyzed the best SPEI time-scale at which the SSI is responding. The selected threshold for SSI and
SPEI was 0; consequently a drought event was recorded when the monthly SSI or SPEI fell below this level. Based on this
threshold, each identified drought event was characterized according to the drought duration and magnitude. The duration
of a given drought event was defined as a consecutive and uninterrupted time period (one or more months), with a SSI or SPEI
value lower than 0. The drought magnitude was the accumulated deficit volume (defined as the sum of the deficit volumes
generated during an uninterrupted number of months) delimiting a drought event and expressed as the accumulated deficits
Fig. 2. Left: Evolution of the percentage of annual precipitation corresponding to events exceeding the 95th percentile. Right: Evolution of the number
of events exceeding the 95th, 99th, and 99.9th percentiles. Red: Significant negative trends, Blue: Significant positive trends, Gray color: non-significant
trends.
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S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
of the SSI or SPEI. Annual series of the average drought duration and magnitude were created for each basin following this
approach. Here, it noteworthy indicating that a hydrological drought is considered as this period in which the streamflow
was below a given threshold quantified in relative terms (i.e. considering the entire streamflow series), independently if it
is only driven by climate anomalies, by water regulation and abstraction or both.
Changes in hydrological and climate drought duration and magnitude were also determined by the nonparametric Mann–Kendall Tau coefficient. Statistically significant trends were defined as those having p < 0.05. To determine
the magnitude (amount) of change, a linear regression model between time (independent variable) and the drought
Fig. 3. (A) Example of the amount quantile analysis corresponding to the percentage of the annual streamflow by events above 0.95th percentile in Pont
de Suert. (B) Plots showing the magnitude of change in the amount quantiles corresponding to the volume of annual streamflow. Black columns represent
significant trends. The four plots at the bottom correspond to the basins located downstream of the main dams.
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
19
duration/magnitude was fitted. The slope of each model (m) indicated the magnitude of change. We also analyzed the
relationship between the annual SSI (as a measure of the annual drought severity) and the average annual reservoir storage,
reservoir capacity and the ratio between the reservoir storage and capacity in the gauge stations located in the lower bound
of the basin.
4. Results
4.1. Extreme precipitation events
The evolution of the most extreme precipitation events concurs with the general reduction in precipitation in the region,
as reported in previous studies. Trends in the percentage of the annual precipitation corresponding to events exceeding the
95th percentile did not show a clear structure, although stations showing negative trends dominated (Fig. 2, left). However,
the number of events exceeding the 95th percentile clearly decreased over most of the basin in the period 1950–2013 (Fig. 2,
right). Among the 52 meteorological stations used in this study, only 16 showed a positive trend in the number of events
exceeding the 95th percentile, with only 5 stations showing statistically significant trends. Other stations exhibited negative
trends, with only 18 of them showing statistically significant trends. As the precipitation threshold increases, the pattern
is much less clear. Results indicate that a total of 34 stations showed a decrease in the number of events exceeding the
99th percentile, albeit with only 9 stations exhibiting statistically significant trends. These findings suggest that the pattern
changed markedly when the threshold was set to the 99.9th percentile. This can be explained by the notion that the annual
frequency of events exceeding this threshold generally increases in the headwaters.
4.2. High river flows
Results reveal a general decrease in the percentage of streamflows associated with daily events exceeding the 90th
percentile throughout the entire basin. Nonetheless, this pattern was much more evident in the lower reaches, downstream
of the dams (Fig. 3). For the stations located in the headwaters, there was no change in the percentage of streamflow recorded
for daily flows with magnitudes less than the 90th percentile. Exceptionally, only 4 stations in the headwaters significant
changes in the daily streamflow recorded for events exceeding the 95th percentile. For gauge stations located downstream of
the main dams, the percentage of the streamflow associated with daily flows with magnitudes less than the 50th percentile
increased, while those exceeding the 50th percentile decreased. This pattern indicates that, in the lower reaches of the
basin, there was a general increase in the frequency of low streamflows. Correspondingly, there was a decrease in the total
streamflow associated with high flows, mainly linked to events having a magnitude exceeding the 95th percentile.
Although there was a reduction in the frequency of the events exceeding the 95th percentile as well as the total streamflow
of these events, there was no change in the frequency of the most extraordinary events (>99.5th percentile). Fig. 4 shows
the trends in the annual frequency of events exceeding the 95th, 98th, 99th, 99.5th, 99.9th, and 99.95th percentiles at the
various gauge stations. For both the headwaters and the lower reaches of the rivers, there was a reduction in the frequency of
Fig. 4. Correlation between the frequency of events exceeding various percentiles (95th, 98th, 99th, 99.5th, 99.9th, and 99.95th percentiles) and the time
series (1950–2013). Black bars represent significant correlations.
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S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
Fig. 5. Evolution of the number of flow events per year exceeding the 95th (gray line) and 99.9th (blue bars) percentiles at each of the two gauge stations
located in the headwaters and in the lower reaches. Trend lines are included for events exceeding the 95th (black line) and 99.9th (blue line) percentiles.
daily flows below the 98th percentile. However, there were some exceptions in the headwaters, including the gauge stations
of Arabó and la Seud’Urgell. Nevertheless, the analysis of the frequency of the extraordinary floods (i.e. those exceeding the
99.5th percentile) indicates that the magnitude of the decreasing trend is much lower, although assessing trends in the
frequency of these events is difficult given their irregular character and uneven sample size. Fig. 5 confirms the same finding
for the gauge stations located in the headwaters and the lower reaches of the basin (Seròs and Balaguer). As illustrated,
there is a marked decrease in the number of flows exceeding the 95th percentile in the lower reaches of the Segre River
(Oliana, Seròs and Balaguer), while the frequency of the extraordinary events (>99.9th percentile) showed no clear temporal
pattern. Exceptionally, there is a reduction in the frequency of extreme and extraordinary floods in Pinyana, which can be
explained by the very high water regulation and the water transfer to other basins. In any case, in the stations of the Segre
River, it is clearly observed that the most extraordinary daily flows showed a low frequency and were usually grouped in
the same year. These events mostly occurred prior to the extensive river regulation of the basin that mostly occurred during
the period 1960–1970. Nonetheless, other events also occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, following the construction of the
main dams in the basin.
The increased regulation in the basin has influenced significantly the frequency of extreme and extraordinary flood events.
Fig. 6 shows the evolution of the storage capacity, the ratio between the annual water storage and the storage capacity and
the annual frequency of events above the 95th percentile in the gauge stations located downstream the reservoir network.
The different gauge stations showed a significant decrease in the frequency of these events, which concurs with the increased
storage capacity. In addition, the interannual variability of the events above the 95th percentile is related to the temporal
variability in the ratio of reservoir storage/capacity (Table 1). Thus, in the last two decades, only those years with high
reservoir levels witnessed some of these events. The pattern of the evolution of events above the 99th percentile is quite
similar, albeit with a clear reduction in the most regulated river sectors (Fig. 7). Nevertheless, while Pinyana was exceptionally
Table 1
Pearson’s r coefficients between the annual frequency of days with a streamflow above the 95th, 99th and 99.9th percentiles and the average annual values
of reservoir storage, total reservoir capacity and the ratio between storage and capacity upstream the gauging stations located in the lower bound of the
basin. Statistically significant correlations (p < 0.05) are given in bold.
Pinyana
Oliana
Balaguer
Serós
Annual frequency (events > 95th)
Storage
Reservoir capacity
Ratio storage/capacity
−0.24
−0.31
0.25
0.19
0.03
0.19
0.03
−0.26
0.49
0.00
−0.29
0.47
Annual frequency (events > 99th)
Storage
Reservoir capacity
Ratio storage/capacity
−0.39
−0.54
0.46
0.31
0.16
0.31
0.03
−0.24
0.45
0.06
−0.19
0.39
Annual frequency (events > 99.9th)
Storage
Reservoir capacity
Ratio storage/capacity
−0.45
−0.57
−0.22
0.17
0.10
0.17
0.09
−0.16
0.40
0.12
−0.14
0.40
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
21
0.8
800
0.6
600
0.4
400
0.2
200
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
160
140
120
100
80
60
40
20
Number of events
1.0
1000
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Pinyana
1200
0
0.0
2020
80
0.8
60
0.6
40
0.4
20
0.2
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
80
0.0
2020
60
40
20
Number of events
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Oliana
100
0
800
0.8
600
0.6
400
0.4
200
0.2
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
250
200
150
100
50
Number of events
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Balaguer
1000
0
0.0
2020
800
0.8
600
0.6
400
0.4
200
0.2
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
0.0
2020
160
140
120
100
80
60
40
20
Number of events
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Serós
1000
0
Fig. 6. Temporal evolution of the reservoir storage capacity (blue), the ratio between annual storage and capacity (red) upstream the gauge stations located
in the lower bound of the river. Black line represents the annual frequency of events above the 95th percentile.
affected by a strong water regulation and transfer, other gauge stations had a certain frequency of these events during the
last two decades. Considering the frequency of extraordinary flood events (>99.9th), the trend was less clear in the stations
of Serós and Balaguer (Fig. 8), in which some extraordinary flood events were identified from 1960 to 1990, in spite of the
high water regulation from 1950. Since the construction of the Rialb dam in 2000, no events above the 99.9th percentile
were identified. This pattern could be related to the strong decrease of relative reservoir storages during the 2000s, which
coincided with the most extreme climate drought events in the basin (see below). Overall, Table 1 clearly demonstrates
how the frequency of events above the 95th percentile is negatively correlated with the evolution of the reservoir capacity
in Balaguer and Serós, although this correlation decreases with the events above the 99th and 99.9th percentiles. On the
22
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
0.8
800
0.6
600
0.4
400
0.2
200
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
80
0.0
2020
60
40
20
Number of events
1.0
1000
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Pinyana
1200
0
80
0.8
60
0.6
40
0.4
20
0.2
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
25
20
15
10
5
Number of events
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Oliana
100
0
0.0
2020
800
0.8
600
0.6
400
0.4
200
0.2
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
30
0.0
2020
25
20
15
10
5
Number of events
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Balaguer
1000
0
800
0.8
600
0.6
400
0.4
200
0.2
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
0.0
2020
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
Number of events
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Serós
1000
0
Fig. 7. Temporal evolution of the reservoir storage capacity (blue), the ratio between annual storage and capacity (red) upstream the gauge stations located
in the lower bound of the river. Black line represents the annual frequency of events above the 99th percentile.
contrary, the frequency of the three types of events (i.e. 95, 99 and 99.9th percentiles) is significantly correlated with the
evolution of the ratio storage/capacity.
4.3. Droughts
Fig. 9 illustrates the evolution of the SSI (hydrological drought index), based on gauge stations in the headwaters of the
Segre basin. In general, the series for the majority of stations showed severe drought episodes in the 1950s, although the
most extreme episodes occurred during the 2000s. A correlation analysis, calculated at different timescales, between the
SSI and the SPEI (climate drought index) reveals that hydrological droughts were correlated with climatic droughts in the
headwaters at time scales of 5–8 months. The SPEI series for each sub-basin corresponded to the drought timescale that
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
23
0.8
800
0.6
600
0.4
400
0.2
200
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
8
0.0
2020
6
4
2
Number of events
1.0
1000
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Pinyana
1200
0
80
0.8
60
0.6
40
0.4
20
0.2
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
3.5
0.0
2020
3.0
2.5
2.0
1.5
1.0
0.5
Number of events
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Oliana
100
0.0
800
0.8
600
0.6
400
0.4
200
0.2
0
1940
5
4
3
2
1
0.0
2020
0
1000
1.0
6
800
0.8
600
0.6
400
0.4
200
0.2
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
Number of events
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Balaguer
1000
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
0.0
2020
5
4
3
2
1
Number of events
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Serós
0
Fig. 8. Temporal evolution of the reservoir storage capacity (blue), the ratio between annual storage and capacity (red) upstream the gauge stations located
in the lower bound of the river. Black line represents the annual frequency of events above the 99.9th percentile.
showed the highest correlation with the SSI. Similar to the SSI, the SPEI showed that the most extreme drought episodes
occurred in the 2000s, particularly from 2005 to 2010.
Fig. 10 shows the same analysis, but for the gauge stations located downstream of the main dams. At these stations, a
marked decrease was observed in the SSI values, which was much more pronounced than that observed for the headwaters
during the period 1950–2013. Moreover, the magnitude of the correlations between the SSI and the SPEI decreased at various
timescales in the lower reaches. The maximum correlation occurred for longer SPEI timescales. Nevertheless, the behavior
of the climate droughts in the lower reaches was quite similar to that observed in the headwaters, with the main drought
episodes being recorded in the 2000s; although they showed lower severity and duration relative to the SSI droughts.
24
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
Fig. 9. Left: Temporal evolution of the SSI in the gauge stations of the headwaters. Central: Correlation between the SSI and the 1- to 48-month SPEI time
scales. Right: Evolution of the SPEI at timescale with higher correlation.
An interesting response of hydrological droughts to climate droughts was the change in the response of hydrological
droughts at the timescales of climate droughts. We found that the magnitude of the change was greater in the lower reaches
than in the headwaters. This aspect was detected by applying moving-window correlations between the SSI and SPEI series
recorded at different time scales (Fig. 11). In the headwaters, there was no trend toward a decrease in the magnitude of
correlations between the SSI and the SPEI at the 5-month timescale, which corresponded to the maximum correlation
values in the majority of series. This was clearly evident for the Organyà and Pont de Suert stations, as well as other stations
in the basin. In contrast, a comparison of the correlations between the SSI and the SPEI at short and long timescales in
the lower reaches suggests a trend toward a lesser response to short SPEI timescales and a greater response to long SPEI
timescales.
Trends of droughts of longer duration and greater magnitude were assessed for both the headwater and the lower reach
areas. Fig. 12 shows the evolution of the average annual drought duration (in months) and magnitude (in standardized
units) for three stations (Puigcerdà, Organyà, and Pont de Suert) located in the headwaters and three (Seròs, Balaguer, and
Pinyana) located in the lower reaches. For all these stations, the correlation between the annual average drought duration
and magnitude was positive and statistically significant for both hydrological and climatic droughts. Nevertheless, for the
headwaters, we found that the trend was stronger for climate droughts than for hydrological droughts, while the opposite
occurred for the lower reaches (Table 2). Thus, the evolution of the average annual drought duration and magnitude in the
headwaters was positive and statistically significant for both hydrological (SSI) and climate (SPEI) droughts. Nevertheless,
for headwater gauge stations, the increase in the magnitude and duration of the climate drought episodes was much greater
than that observed for hydrological droughts. In contrast, for the three gauge stations located downstream of the main dams
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
25
Fig. 10. Left: Temporal evolution of the SSI at gauge stations in the lower reaches. Central: Correlation between the SSI and the 1- to 48-month SPEI time
scales. Right: Evolution of the SPEI at timescale with higher correlation.
in the basin (Seròs, Pinyana, and Balaguer), the magnitude and duration of hydrological droughts increased more than that
observed for climate droughts.
Fig. 13 shows the temporal evolution of the reservoir storage capacity, the ratio between annual storage and capacity and
the annual SSI in the gauge stations located in the lower bound of the river. The most regulated basins (i.e. Pinyana, Balaguer
and Serós) showed a positive and significant correlation with the evolution of the reservoir capacity (Table 3). This finding
suggests that drought severity has increased in the lower bound of the basin, as a consequence of river regulation. Results also
reveal that reservoir storage is a key driver of streamflow drought severity downstream the reservoirs. In particular, there
is a high and significant correlation between the annual reservoir storages and the annual SSI in the most regulated basins,
demonstrating a significant influence of the reservoir management on the occurrence of hydrological droughts downstream.
0.8
Organya
0.7
5-month
0.6
0.5
0.4
20-month
0.3
15-year moving-window
correlations
15-year moving-window
correlations
0.8
0.5
0.4
20-month
0.3
1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
0.8
Serós
0.7
8-month
0.6
20-month
0.4
0.3
0.2
1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
15-year moving-window
correlations
0.8
15-year moving-window
correlations
5-month
0.6
0.2
0.2
0.5
Pont de Suert
0.7
0.7
Pinyana
0.6
0.5
30-month
0.4
0.3
0.2
8-month
0.1
1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
Fig. 11. Evolution of 30-year moving correlations between the SSI and short (blue) and long (red) SPEI time scales at two gauge stations in the headwaters
(above) and two stations in the lower reaches (below).
26
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
Drought duration
(months)
12
Puigcerdá
10
Organya
Pont de Suert
Pearson's r = 0.43
p < 0.05
Pearson's r = 0.46
p < 0.01
Pearson's r = 0.40
p < 0.05
Drought duration
(months)
A
12
8
6
4
2
0
1950
10
8
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1950
1960
1970
Serós
Balaguer
Pinyana
Pearson's r = 0.67
p < 0.01
Pearson's r = 0.52
p < 0.01
Pearson's r = 0.46
p < 0.01
1980
1990
2000
2010
1980
1990
2000
2010
1980
1990
2000
2010
1980
1990
2000
2010
6
4
2
0
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1950
1960
1970
Drought magnitude
(st. units)
Drought magnitude
(st. units)
B
25
20
15
Puigcerdá
Organya
Pont de Suert
Pearson's r = 0.65
p < 0.01
Pearson's r = 0.53
p < 0.01
Pearson's r = 0.24
p < 0.05
10
5
0
1950
25
20
15
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1950
1960
1970
Serós
Balaguer
Pinyana
Pearson's r = 0.73
p < 0.01
Pearson's r = 0.71
p < 0.01
Pearson's r = 0.48
p < 0.01
10
5
0
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1950
1960
1970
Fig. 12. (A) Evolution of the annual drought duration (blue: hydrological droughts; red: climate droughts) at three gauge stations in the headwaters and
three in the lower reaches. (B) Evolution of the annual magnitude (blue: hydrological droughts; red: climate droughts) at three gauge stations in the
headwaters and three in the lower reaches.
Table 2
Magnitude of trends in drought duration and magnitude in the headwaters (blue) and lower reaches (orange). Bold: significant trends (p < 0.05).
Duraon
SSI
Puigcerdá
Organya
Arabó
La Seo
Valira
Pont Suert
P. Segur
Oliana
Serós
Pinyana
Balaguer
SPEI
3.3
2.1
0.7
0.9
3.0
1.4
-0.5
3.0
4.5
4.3
6.1
4.0
4.0
3.4
3.9
3.4
2.9
3.0
2.8
2.7
2.1
2.3
Magnitude
SSI
SPEI
4.8
6.1
2.2
5.5
1.3
5.4
0.9
5.6
3.4
5.1
1.7
4.6
0.2
4.4
4.4
4.7
6.7
3.9
3.4
5.6
7.1
3.5
Table 3
Pearson’s r coefficients between the annual SSI and the average annual values of reservoir storage, total reservoir capacity and the ratio between storage
and capacity upstream the gauge stations located in the lower bound of the basin. Statistically significant correlations (p < 0.05) are given in bold.
Storage
Reservoir capacity
Ratio storage/capacity
Pinyana
Oliana
Balaguer
Serós
−0.13
−0.31
0.28
0.18
−0.02
0.18
−0.30
−0.61
0.49
−0.22
−0.55
0.56
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
27
0.8
800
0.6
600
0.4
400
0.2
200
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
2
0.0
2020
1
0
-1
Annual average SSI
1.0
1000
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Pinyana
1200
-2
80
0.8
60
0.6
40
0.4
20
0.2
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
1.5
0.0
2020
1.0
0.5
0.0
-0.5
-1.0
-1.5
Annual average SSI
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Oliana
100
-2.0
800
0.8
600
0.6
400
0.4
200
0.2
0
1940
3
2
1
0
-1
0.0
2020
-2
1000
1.0
2
800
0.8
600
0.6
400
0.4
200
0.2
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
Annual average SSI
1.0
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Balaguer
1000
0
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
0.0
2020
1
0
-1
Annual average SSI
Ratio Storage/Capacity
Reservoir Capacity (Hm3)
Serós
-2
Fig. 13. Temporal evolution of the reservoir storage capacity (blue), the ratio between annual storage and capacity (red) upstream the gauge stations
located in the lower bound of the river. Black line represents the annual SSI.
5. Discussion and conclusions
We analyzed the evolution of climate and hydrological extreme events in the Segre basin (northeastern Spain), where
streamflows have been highly regulated by a dense network of reservoirs constructed during the second half of the 20th
century. Between 1950 and 2013, there was a general reduction in the occurrence of extreme precipitation events in this
basin, which this study defined as those exceeding the 95th percentile in precipitation series. This pattern is consistent
with previous analyses undertaken at the national (Rodrigo, 2010; Gallego et al., 2011) and regional (López-Moreno et al.,
2010; Turco and Llasat, 2011) scales. Thus, the percentage of annual precipitation explained by events exceeding the 95th
percentile generally decreased, but with few exceptions where there was a decrease in the frequency of such events. The
28
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
trend for the extraordinary events per year (i.e. those exceeding the 99.9th percentile) was not so clear. The analysis of the
trend for these events was difficult because they occur very irregularly. Recent studies in Spain focusing on these events have
provided no evidence for a generalized trend (e.g. Acero et al., 2011; Beguería et al., 2011). Nevertheless, the headwaters
of the Segre basin showed an increase in the frequency of the extraordinary precipitation events, while there has been no
significant change in the rest of the basin.
The evolution of the streamflow at the gauge stations in the basin also indicated a general reduction in high flows.
There has been a general reduction in the annual streamflow since the 1950s, though being more pronounced in the lower
areas of the basin than in the headwaters (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2016). Nevertheless, the pattern of streamflow decrease
differed between the headwaters and the lower part of the basin. In the headwaters, there was a general reduction in the
streamflow volume associated with events exceeding the 95th percentile. In contrast, there were no major changes in the
volume associated with low flows. Following the construction of a dense network of reservoirs in the lower parts of the
basin, there was an increase in the streamflow volume associated with the low flow categories, combined with a marked
decrease in the high flow categories. This pattern was mainly recorded at the Seròs, Balaguer, and Pinyana gauge stations,
which are located in the lower part of the Segre basin.
This study also noted a general decrease in the volume associated with high flows during recent decades, particularly
in the northern (Renard et al., 2008; Giuntoli et al., 2013) and southern (López-Moreno et al., 2006) slopes of the Pyrenees.
A similar pattern has also been observed in other basins across the Iberian Peninsula (e.g. Silva et al., 2012; Morán-Tejeda
et al., 2012; Mediero et al., 2014). This pattern can be explained by the general reduction in precipitation in the Spanish
Pyrenees (López-Moreno et al., 2010), and particularly in the Segre basin (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2016). However, the general
increase in vegetation activity and cover associated with the abandonment of agricultural practices in these mountain areas
during the second half of the 20th century may also have been important (Lasanta et al., 2005; García-Ruiz and Lana-Renault,
2011). Mediero et al. (2014) related changes in climate processes to the general reduction in high flows in several basins
of Spain not affected by damming. They suggested that trends in floods could also be related to the evolution of the AED,
which has increased markedly in Spain in the last five decades (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2014). In humid areas, including the
Pyrenean headwaters, an increase in AED would contribute to greater transpiration in areas having dense vegetation cover,
which would contribute to depletion of the soil water content. Thus, studies in experimental basins in the Pyrenees have
shown that the generation of floods is highly related to the soil moisture conditions in the basins (Lana-Renault et al., 2007;
Serrano-Muela et al., 2015), although a direct connection between particular flood anomalies and air temperature conditions
is difficult to establish.
The marked differences between the headwaters and the lower reaches of the basin with respect to the trends in the
contribution of low and high flows to the annual streamflow volume are likely to be associated with the intense regulation
of water to meet the water supply demands for irrigated areas and livestock farms, which are the main economic activities
in the basin. Several studies have indicated that there has been a reduction in the magnitude of high flows associated with
the presence of dams (Benke, 1990; Ligon et al., 1995; Thoms and Sheldon, 2000; Song et al., 2015; Bai et al., 2015), but
also an increase in the contribution of low flows (Nislow et al., 2002; Cowell and Stoudt, 2002). For example, Magilligan and
Nislow (2005) analyzed the impact of dams in 21 river basins in the USA, concluding that, for low flows, the 1- to 90-day
minimum flows increased significantly following impoundment.
In the Segre basin, the dams have clearly moderated the floods that occur in the basin. This is evident from the analysis
of the frequency of streamflows exceeding certain thresholds each year. Nevertheless, while this pattern is evident for
thresholds corresponding to the 95th to 99.5th percentiles, there has been no reduction in the frequency of extraordinary
floods. This pattern is particularly evident in the headwaters, where extraordinary precipitation events are random in space
and time, mainly contributing to flood generation (García-Ruiz et al., 2000). Thus, there has been a general increase in the
frequency of the extraordinary precipitation events (>99.9th percentile) in the headwaters of the basin, which could affect
the frequency of the extraordinary floods occurring in this area. An explanation of the absence of a trend in extreme floods is
an avenue for future research, particularly with the observed increase in the frequency of the most extreme rainfall events.
However, revegetation of parts of the basin, as reported in Piqué et al. (2016), could affect water interception and soil
moisture via evapotranspiration, and thus influence the relationship between extreme precipitation events and floods. The
results of studies in experimental basins across the western Pyrenees skillfully validated this hypothesis (Serrano-Muela
et al., 2015).
Interestingly, r, the observed pattern in the headwaters of the Segre basin was also recorded in the lower reaches.
Regardless of the extensive regulation of the basin since the 1950s, extraordinary floods were recorded in the 1980s and
1990s, as a consequence of the reconstruction of the main reservoirs of the basin. This exception is represented in the
Pinyana station, which was affected by a high level of water regulation and a water transfer upstream. Based on a temporal perspective of several centuries, Barrera-Escoda and Llasat (2015) suggested that floods in the Segre basin did not
decrease during the second half of the 20th century. Our results suggest that the reservoirs of the Segre basin have had a
marked influence on the regulation of ordinary and extraordinary floods, but the capacity of the reservoir network to reduce
extraordinary floods may depend on a large number of factors, including reservoir capacity and storage and the dam operation rules. Using various case studies based on small reservoirs in Europe, Salazar et al. (2012) analyzed the effectiveness of
flood management measures, demonstrating that these reservoirs are effective in reducing the downstream magnitude of
small and medium events, but have almost no effect on the largest floods. Similar results have been found in other studies
(e.g. Smith et al., 2010). In the Segre basin, it is likely that the reservoirs would reduce the magnitude of extreme floods,
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
29
as their storage capacity is very high. Nevertheless, other physiographic and climatic factors could also play important
roles.
The basins of northeastern Spain are affected by torrential rainfall in response to various atmospheric mechanisms
(Llasat and Puigcerver, 1997). Extreme precipitation events can occur following periods of extensive precipitation, generating large volumes of surface runoff, particularly when soil is saturated (Lana-Renault et al., 2007; García-Ruiz et al.,
2005, 2008). Numerous studies have shown that annual and/or seasonal climate conditions can markedly affect the capacity
of reservoirs to manage the largest floods. Morán-Tejeda et al. (2012) investigated this issue in the Douro basin (central Spain), concluding that for most reservoirs, the level of alteration to flows was highly correlated with the annual
inflow volume. A representative example is the reservoirs, which were not regulated excessively, during years of relatively high levels of water input. Furthermore, López-Moreno et al. (2002) indicated that the influence of the Yesa
reservoir on downstream floods in Aragon basin (the western Pyrenees) depends largely on water storage level. Thus,
they noted that when the dam was at greater than 90% capacity, there was almost no flood control, and even higher
peak flows could occur downstream because of the sudden releases of the water necessary for dam safety. These results
highlight the difficulties in flood management in highly complex Mediterranean basins, including the Segre basin, where
climate variability overlaps at various temporal scales (from daily to annual) in determining the occurrence of flood
events.
This study indicates that reservoir construction and water uses in the Segre basin have impacted the frequency, duration,
and severity of hydrological droughts downstream of the main dams. There has been an increase in hydrological droughts
associated with the observed evolution of climate droughts, which is consistent with the general pattern found for the Iberian
Peninsula (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2014). This study suggests a high level of agreement between the temporal evolution of
climate and hydrological drought indices in the Segre basin. Thus, both records indicated that the most severe drought
events occurred in the 2000s, in accordance with observations in other basins of northeastern Spain (López-Bustins et al.,
2013). Nevertheless, the response of hydrological droughts to climate droughts differed markedly between the headwaters
and the lower areas of the basin. In the headwaters, hydrological droughts mostly respond to short timescales of climate
droughts, which is a characteristic of areas with limited capacity to water storage as well as a rapid streamflow response
to precipitation variability (López-Moreno et al., 2013; Barker et al., 2015). In contrast, in the lower areas of the basin,
the response of hydrological droughts occurred at longer climate drought timescales, because of the high water storage
capacity upstream. This pattern is also a characteristic of other regions of the Iberian Peninsula, where damming has clearly
altered the timescales of response of hydrological droughts to climate variability (Vicente Serrano and López-Moreno, 2005;
Lorenzo-Lacruz et al., 2010; López-Moreno et al., 2013). Thus, the increased streamflow regulation in the Segre basin has
markedly altered the timescales of response of hydrological droughts to climate droughts. While there has been significant
change in the correlation between hydrological and climate droughts at various timescales in the headwaters, there has
been a clear increase in the influence of long climate drought time scales in the lower areas of the basin, and accordingly a
reduction in the influence of short climate drought timescales; this is consistent with the increased storage capacity in the
basin.
Numerous studies had stressed the potential of water regulation to reduce the severity of droughts, based on water
storage capacity (Yeh and Becker, 1982; McMahon et al., 2006). This approach is applicable in the Segre basin, where a large
reservoir network guarantees the water supply for large irrigated areas in the lower parts of the basin. Nevertheless, in few
instances, the Segre basin network failed to adequately meet water demands for irrigation. A representative example is the
most extreme drought events occurred during the 2000s.
Nevertheless, from a hydrological perspective, the water regulation system does not appear to be so efficient for managing hydrological droughts. In the headwaters of the Segre basin, the increase in the duration and magnitude of hydrological
droughts was less, compared to climate droughts. This was probably because of the capacity of the mountain headwaters
to split long duration climate droughts in response to intense short duration precipitation events. In contrast, in the lower
areas of the basin, the opposite pattern was observed, with a marked increase in the duration and magnitude of hydrological
droughts relative to that of climate droughts. In the Segre basin, there has been a large decrease in streamflow, as a consequence of the recent decrease in precipitation and increase in AED. However, the decrease in streamflow is much more
pronounced in the lower areas of the basin, due to the high and increasing demands for different domestic and agricultural
uses (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2016).
The high demand for water for agriculture, urban, and tourist uses in the Iberian Peninsula have made the accentuation of hydrological droughts downstream large reservoir systems a common management practice. This feature has
already observed in the Douro basin (Morán-Tejeda et al., 2012) and the headwaters (Lorenzo-Lacruz et al., 2010) and
lower reaches (López-Moreno et al., 2009) of the Tagus basin. The objective of reservoir management in any basin is primarily to supply water for various uses, besides releasing water to rivers. Because of the need to meet the demands of
water users, the base flow in most regulated rivers is much lower in magnitude than that in rivers with natural streamflow (Ibàñez et al., 1996; Batalla et al., 2004). This feature largely explains the observed increase in hydrological droughts
downstream of major dams, which in accordance increases water regulation capacity to supply irrigated lands, urban areas
and livestock farms. This is exacerbated during extreme climate drought periods, such as those affected the Segre basin in
2007–2009, when the supply of available water resources to the various water users was prior over streamflows. However,
the streamflow reduction cannot affect a minimum environmental flow, established by the current environmental laws in
Spain.
30
S.M. Vicente-Serrano et al. / Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 12 (2017) 13–32
Acknowledgements
The authors thank Spanish Meteorological Agency (AEMET) and MeteoCat for providing the climate data and Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro (CHE) for providing the hydrological data used in this study. This work was supported by the
research project PCIN-2015-220, CGL2014-52135-C03-01, Red de variabilidad y cambioclimático RECLIM (CGL2014-517221REDT) financed by the Spanish Commission of Science and Technology and FEDER, “LIFE12 ENV/ES/000536-Demonstration
and validation of innovative methodology for regional climate change adaptation in the Mediterranean area (LIFE MEDACC)”
financed by the LIFE programme of the European Commission and IMDROFLOOD financed by the Water Works 2014 cofunded
call of the European Commission. Marina Peña-Gallardo and Esteban Alonso-González were granted by the Spanish Ministry
of Economy and Competitiveness; Natalia Martin-Hernandez was supported by a doctoral grant by the Aragón Regional Government; and Miquel Tomas-Burguera was supported by a doctoral grant by el Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte.
Arturo Sanchez-Lorenzo was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship JCI-2012-12508 financed by the Spanish Ministry of
Economy and Competitiveness.
Appendix A. Supplementary data
Supplementary data associated with this article can be found, in the online version, at doi:10.1016/j.ejrh.2017.01.004.
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