Hydrology and climate of four watersheds in eastern Puerto Rico—Chapter C
Puerto Rico lies directly in the path of the easterly trade winds, which deliver steady rainfall to the mountains and steer tropical wave systems toward the island. Hurricanes and tropical storms derived from these tropical waves differ in frequency and intensity, contributing to substantial interannual variation in precipitation and stream discharge. Puerto Rico's steep topography and small water-storage capacity leave the island's water supply and developed flood plains vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts. This vulnerability may increase in the future owing to ongoing change, both local (such as land-cover shifts, water supply projects, and construction of roads and other infrastructure) and regional (climate variability and change). Climate change, which could lead to more intense and prolonged droughts as well as an increase in the magnitude and frequency of destructive storms in the Caribbean, may alter temperature and affect the availability of water for human and ecosystem needs. Accurate assessment of hydrologic regimes and water budgets is therefore crucial for effective management of water resources. As part of the U.S. Geological Survey's Water, Energy, and Biogeochemical Budgets program, hydrologic and geomorphologic processes and stream chemistry of four small watersheds in eastern Puerto Rico, which differ in geology and land cover, have been studied since 1991. Spatial and temporal characteristics of precipitation and stream discharge, along with water budgets, were determined for the watersheds for the period 1991 to 2005. The locations of the watersheds relative to the Luquillo Mountains and the range's associated rain shadow dominate hydrological processes, dwarfing influences of land cover. The influence of geology is reflected in recession characteristics of the rivers (recession is faster in soils overlying volcaniclastic bedrock) and in hillslope geomorphic processes (sediment is delivered at higher rates from soils overlying granitic bedrock).