Environmental Management

, Volume 44, Issue 5, pp 968–980

Assessing Critical Source Areas in Watersheds for Conservation Buffer Planning and Riparian Restoration


DOI: 10.1007/s00267-009-9380-y

Cite this article as:
Qiu, Z. Environmental Management (2009) 44: 968. doi:10.1007/s00267-009-9380-y


A science-based geographic information system (GIS) approach is presented to target critical source areas in watersheds for conservation buffer placement. Critical source areas are the intersection of hydrologically sensitive areas and pollutant source areas in watersheds. Hydrologically sensitive areas are areas that actively generate runoff in the watershed and are derived using a modified topographic index approach based on variable source area hydrology. Pollutant source areas are the areas in watersheds that are actively and intensively used for such activities as agricultural production. The method is applied to the Neshanic River watershed in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The capacity of the topographic index in predicting the spatial pattern of runoff generation and the runoff contribution to stream flow in the watershed is evaluated. A simple cost-effectiveness assessment is conducted to compare the conservation buffer placement scenario based on this GIS method to conventional riparian buffer scenarios for placing conservation buffers in agricultural lands in the watershed. The results show that the topographic index reasonably predicts the runoff generation in the watershed. The GIS-based conservation buffer scenario appears to be more cost-effective than the conventional riparian buffer scenarios.


Conservation buffersVariable area source hydrologyGeographic information systemsHydrologically sensitive areasCritical source areasTopographic index

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and Environmental ScienceNew Jersey Institute of TechnologyNewarkUSA