Volume 69: Achieving Environmental Security: Ecosystem Services and Human Welfare
Human pressures on the natural resources of the United States have resulted in many unintended changes in our ecosystems, e.g., loss of biodiversity, habitat degradation, increases in the number of endangered species, and increases in contamination and water pollution. Environmental managers are concerned about broad-scale changes in land use and landscape pattern and their cumulative impact on hydrologic and ecological processes that affect stream conditions. The type of land use and land cover has direct consequences for most ecosystem services, including water quantity and water quality, erosion control, and biodiversity. As human pressure continues to increase, ecosystem services worldwide are projected to suffer continued loss and degradation, thus reducing the capacity of ecosystems to provide essential goods and services that contribute to human well-being . The ability to assess, report, and forecast the life support functions of ecosystems is absolutely critical to our capacity to make informed decisions that will maintain the sustainable nature of our environment and secure these resources into the future. This study presents an integrated approach to identify areas with potential water quality problems as a result of land cover change projected by stakeholders within a moderately large river basin in the Pacific Northwest (USA). A process-based hydrologic watershed model was used to examine the contribution of land use/land cover to sediment yield, and nitrate and phosphorus loadings, and identify subwatersheds within the Willamette River Basin that would be most affected in the year 2050 relative to three possible future scenarios, which include inherent differences related to conservation, existing planning trends, and open development. Thus, the objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of alternative future scenarios that describe varying degrees of urban development and human use on hydrological response related to water quality. Results of this study suggest that the amount of forest along streams and agriculture consistently explained a high percentage of variation in nutrients. The AGWA-SWAT model was used to simulate change in sediment yield, nitrate and phosphorus transported with surface runoff for the three future scenarios. With regard to nitrate, the greatest increase was associated with subwatersheds with agricultural land use and urban areas. Although the model predicted some improvement in basin headwaters for all scenarios, nitrate loadings are expected to decrease under the conservation scenario. The largest decrease was observed in the Coast Range. With regard to phosphorus loadings, the greatest reduction was observed in subwatersheds draining predominantly forest areas. The greatest increase was observed under the open development scenario in subwatersheds with agricultural land use. Urbanization and agriculture are presumed to be the major environmental stressors affecting watershed condition of the Willamette River Basin.