Using GIS to Delineate Headwater Stream Origins in the Appalachian Coalfields of Kentucky

Jonathan A. Villines, Carmen T. Agouridis, Richard C. Warner, Christopher D. Barton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Headwater streams have a significant nexus or physical, chemical, and/or biological connection to downstream reaches. Generally, defined as 1st-3rd order with ephemeral, intermittent, or perennial flow regimes, these streams account for a substantial portion of the total stream network particularly in mountainous terrain. Due to their often remote locations, small size, and large numbers, conducting field inventories of headwater streams is challenging. A means of estimating headwater stream location and extent according to flow regime type using publicly available spatial data is needed to simplify this complex process. Using field-collected headwater point of origin data from three control watersheds, streams were characterized according to a set of spatial parameters related to topography, geology, and soils. These parameters were (1) compared to field-collected point of origin data listed in three nearby Jurisdictional Determinations, (2) used to develop a geographic information system (GIS)-based stream network for identifying ephemeral, intermittent, and perennial streams, and (3) applied to a larger watershed and compared to values obtained using the high-resolution National Hydrography Dataset (NHD). The parameters drainage area and local valley slope were the most reliable predictors of flow regime type. Results showed the high-resolution NHD identified no ephemeral streams and 9 and 65% fewer intermittent and perennial streams, respectively, than the GIS model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1667-1687
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Water Resources Association.


  • Geospatial analysis
  • Planning
  • Rivers/streams
  • Surface water hydrology
  • Watershed management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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