Impacts of environmental stressors on the water resources of intensively managed hydrologic systems

Alejandra Botero-Acosta, Maria L. Chu, Andrew J. Stumpf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Watersheds are complex systems due to their surface and subsurface spatially connected water fluxes and biochemical processes that shape Earth's critical zone. In intensively managed landscapes, the implementation of watershed management practices (WMPs) regulate their short-term responses, whereas climate variability controls the long-term processes. Understanding their responses to anthropogenic and natural stressors requires a holistic approach that takes into account their multiscale spatio-temporal linkages. The objective of this study was to simulate the impacts of spatially and temporally varying WMPs and projected climate changes on the surface and groundwater resources in the Upper Sangamon River Basin (USRB), a watershed in central Illinois greatly impacted by agricultural and industrial operations. The physically based hydrologic model MIKE-SHE was used to simulate the hydrologic responses of the basin to different WMPs and climatic conditions. The simulation of a WMP was varied spatially across the basin to determine the spectrum of responses and critical conditions. In general, the wetlands and forested riparian buffer scenarios were found to cause a reduction in the average streamflow, whereas crop rotation had varied responses depending on the location of implementation and the climate condition assumed. Reductions of up to 30% in the average streamflow were found for the forested riparian buffer under the ESM 2M climate projections, whereas an increase of up to 13% with the crop rotation schemes under CM3 climate was predicted. The model results showed that the installation of tile drains across the USRB increased the water table depth (from ground level) by up to 56%, making crop production possible. Groundwater level in USRB appeared to be more sensitive to future climatic conditions than to WMP implementation. The impacts of WMPs are determined to depend on the climate conditions under which they are applied. Investigating individual and combined stressors' effects over the critical zone at a watershed scale can lead to a more comprehensive analysis of the risk and trade-offs in every managerial decision that will enable an efficient use of resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2947-2962
Number of pages16
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number19
StatePublished - Sep 15 2018


  • climate change
  • critical zone
  • intensively managed landscapes
  • watershed management practices
  • watershed model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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