Hydrological modeling of an experimental basin in the semiarid region of the Brazilian State of Pernambuco

Abstract Hydrological simulation models have proven to be an important tool for managing and planning water resources, enabling the assessment of the impacts of rainfall on surface runoff and soil moisture. This work therefore aimed to apply the SWAT model for the analysis of hydrological processes in the Experimental Basin of the Jatobá Stream, in the semiarid region of the State of Pernambuco, Brazil, considering the calibration and validation of the model from streamflow and soil moisture data. Moreover, the study investigated hydrological effectiveness in a recovery scenario in areas of higher topographic elevation of the arborescent Caatinga and the behavior of the hydrological components under an agricultural expansion scenario. Events which occured between 2009 and 2010 were used to calibrate and validate streamflow and soil moisture data. The calibration and validation of streamflow exhibited efficiency coefficients (NSE) of 0.58 and 0.42, respectively, and 0.53 and 0.46 for soil moisture. The adjustment of the parameters was considered adequate for representing streamflow recession periods. It was also verified that the alternative process of calibration and validation with soil moisture reduced uncertainty. Regeneration of the vegetative cover over 21% of the hilltop areas of arborescent Caatinga led to a significant increase in percolation (42%) and a decrease of 34% in soil moisture (due to water consumption by plants), thus contributing to the recovery of headwaters, increasing resilience to water scarcity. On the other hand, the 38% expansion of agriculture caused an increase of 11% in surface runoff and, consequently, an increase of 10% in soil moisture.