Regional Land Use Change and Water Quality Modeling: A Landscape Approach

EPA Grant Number: F07C40597
Title: Regional Land Use Change and Water Quality Modeling: A Landscape Approach
Investigators: Hadden, Tracy
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 1, 2006 through January 1, 2009
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - City and Regional Planning , Watersheds , Academic Fellowships


The motivation for this project is an awareness that human settlements rely on the natural hydrology around them for essential ecosystem services, including management of ever-increasing volumes of stormwater runoff. However, increasing urbanization threatens to destabilize and destroy these very watershed processes. American cities as diverse as New York, NY and Cary, NC are applying divergent growth management strategies to protect water resources, though we have little concrete evidence about the comparative advantages of each strategy. Our objective is to understand the water quality consequences that emerge at the regional, watershed scale from widespread incremental development decisions in land use and transportation over long periods of time. In particular, we want to expose tradeoffs between urbanization strategies that are perceived as competing or complementary with regards to the natural environment.


This research project uses the power of computer simulation to explore alternative scenarios for regional-scale watershed urbanization. We propose to bring together a detailed typology of urban form with a land use change simulation that includes travel behavior feedbacks and a spatially explicit model of watershed hydrology. This project will leverage current advanced land use change modeling work underway at UNC-Chapel Hill applying the TRANUS model to growth scenarios for Charlotte, NC to the year 2050. We will link this model with the EPA's Storm Water Management Model (SWMM) to create future water quality predictions that are grounded by a policy framework, clear theoretical justification, and empirical calibration. This model will exploit the increasing ubiquity of high-quality land use and water quality data, computing power, and advancing understanding of land use-transportation interactions. The model will be highly calibrated to the local study area of Charlotte, NC, simulating possible real development scenarios of general interest to policy makers nationwide.

Expected Results:

There are three major substantial products expected from this project. First, physical growth scenarios for Charlotte in 2050 will provide a visualization of the potential growth to come. This visualization will provide a concrete aid to decision makers attempting to understand the real-world implications of these experimental simulations. Second, a forecast of the spatial pattern of water quality constituent contaminants for a select variety of contaminants, exposing the tradeoffs involved in making development decisions that will impact water quality. Third, the products of these simulations will provide the basis for a regional growth management policy analysis for the Charlotte area and for regional planning in theory.

Project Synopsis:

Urban areas need watersheds for drinking water and flood management, but urbanization can destroy watersheds. Our goal is to understand the consequences that emerge for a region from many small development decisions in land use and transportation over long periods of time. How can we best grow and protect water quality? This project uses the power of computer simulation to explore alternatives for future development in the Charlotte, NC metro area up to 2050. By looking at multiple scenarios, we explore tradeoffs between strategies and uncertainty about what might happen in the future.

Supplemental Keywords:

landscape management, regional planning, storm water management, water quality modeling,, Scientific Discipline

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2006
  • 2007
  • Final