Water Resources Sustainability Indicator: Application of the Watershed Characteristics Approach

Heidi M. Peterson, John L. Nieber, Roman Kanivetsky, Boris Shmagin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The quantification of the renewable flux (i. e. sustainable limit) of the hydrologic system is the prerequisite for transitioning from unsustainable to sustainable water resources management. The application of the Watershed Characteristics Approach to estimate the renewable flux of the hydrologic system was demonstrated using Minnesota's (USA) Twin Cities Metropolitan Area (TCMA). The methodology quantified the relationships between landscape properties and water balance characteristics, resulting in the development of functioning hierarchical hydrogeological units with corresponding recharge rates. This renewable flux is a key quantitative characteristic for the assessment of a sustainability indicator. The key indicator of sustainable water use is the ratio of the renewable capacity of the hydrologic system to the water use by humans and the environment. By incorporating water use estimates for the TCMA relative to the calculated recharge rates, sustainability indicators for groundwater and total flux were calculated for the metropolitan area. As far back as the 1890s, declines in TCMA groundwater levels have been observed, which correspond to the unsustainable groundwater extraction estimates identified in the results of this study. The non-stationary characteristics of urban watersheds influenced by ongoing land use/land cover changes as illustrated in this paper, emphasizes the need for conservative hydrologic planning to achieve sustainable water management. This approach can also be applied to other metropolitan areas as a hydrologic tool for decision-makers to design sustainable water policy and prevent the over-extraction of the water flowing through the hydrologic system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1221-1234
Number of pages14
JournalWater Resources Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments A portion of this research was supported by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, “Water Resources Sustainability”, Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, ML 2007, [Chap._30], Sec. [2], Subd. 5(i).


  • Hydrologic response units
  • Renewable flux
  • Sustainability indicator
  • Sustainable water management
  • Water use


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