Alternative Urbanization Scenarios for an Agricultural Watershed: Design Criteria, Social Constraints, and Effects on Groundwater and Surface Water Systems

EPA Grant Number: R828010
Title: Alternative Urbanization Scenarios for an Agricultural Watershed: Design Criteria, Social Constraints, and Effects on Groundwater and Surface Water Systems
Investigators: Lathrop, Richard C. , LaGro Jr., James A. , Nelsoni, Edward B. , Zedler, Joy B. , Bahr, Jean M. , Bradbury, Kenneth R. , Greb, Steven R. , Potter, Kenneth W. , Nowak, Peter
Institution: University of Wisconsin Madison , Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 15, 2000 through January 14, 2003
Project Amount: $886,105
RFA: Water and Watersheds (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water and Watersheds , Water


Agricultural landscapes are being urbanized throughout the United States, resulting in the degradation of aquatic systems. Fundamental changes in watershed hydrology result from the construction of impervious surfaces (roofs, streets, sidewalks). As impervious surface area expands, runoff peaks and volumes increase, and water quality and groundwater levels decline. Increased runoff peaks cause channel erosion and habitat degradation. Increased erosion of soil and associated nutrients cause sedimentation and eutrophication of lakes and wetlands. Diminished groundwater levels desiccate wetlands and reduce the discharge of high quality groundwater to springs, streams, and lakes. Wetland bio-diversity declines. These hydrologic and ecological impacts of urbanization are exacerbated in regions where groundwater is pumped for domestic use and irrigation.

Objectives: We propose to evaluate alternative management practices and patterns of urbanization by considering a range of urban development issues, including storm runoff, groundwater depletion, wastewater treatment, eutrophication, and wetland degradation. We will also address the interaction among these issues and the social and political opportunities for, and constraints on, effective management. Our goal is to fill critical knowledge gaps and extend (or develop) analytical and modeling tools that will minimize the hydrologic and ecological impacts of urbanization.


We will apply this new knowledge and our enhanced modeling tools to a case study of the North Fork of Pheasant Branch near Madison, Wisconsin. An abundance of data, several ongoing research projects, and a high level of public interest make this an excellent research site. We will construct comparable land use/water management scenarios for this watershed, including "low-impact development" designs, and evaluate their approximate economic costs, social/political acceptability, and hydrologic and ecological impacts. We will use extant groundwater and surface water models calibrated for the region and structurally modified by the research team to correctly simulate the infiltration practices, thermal pollution, well locations and pumping schedules, and wastewater treatment options. We will examine urban impacts on wetlands, especially their bio-diversity, and determine which native species can thrive in constructed urban bio-retention wetlands. We will evaluate farmer behaviors needed to reduce high soil P concentrations in agricultural lands that are likely to be converted to urban development. We will model water clarity and algal bloom responses to scenarios of P loading changes downstream in Lake Mendota. Finally, we will evaluate the social and institutional barriers to low-impact development through interviews and focus groups with engineers, planners, homeowners and other key players.

Expected Results:

This multi-disciplinary research will allow us to make recommendations that should help local governments and citizen groups improve the management and protection of critical aquatic resources in rapidly urbanizing landscapes.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 72 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 18 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Nutrients, Water & Watershed, Environmental Chemistry, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, State, Wet Weather Flows, Ecological Risk Assessment, Environmental Engineering, Watersheds, nutrient transport, ecological effects, ecological exposure, urbanization, environmental monitoring, aquatic ecosystem, fate and transport, eutrophication, thermal pollution, alternative urbanization scenarios, biodiversity, streams, agricultural watershed, runoff, surface water, aquatic degradation, ecological impacts, eutrophication of lakes, urban development, aquatic ecosystems, water quality, agriculture, nutrient cycling, channel erosion, impervious surface areas, irrigation, Wisconsin (WI), social constraints, well location, aquatic biota, land use, groundwater, stream ecosystem, storm water, agriculture , phosphorous, land management

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2000 Progress Report
  • 2001 Progress Report
  • Final Report