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Spatial fit between water quality policies and hydrologic ecosystem services in an urbanizing agricultural landscape

Abstract

Context

Sustaining hydrologic ecosystem services is critical for human wellbeing but challenged by land use for agriculture and urban development. Water policy and management strive to safeguard hydrologic services, yet implementation is often fragmented. Understanding the spatial fit between water polices and hydrologic services is needed to assess the spatial targeting of policy portfolios at landscape scales.

Objectives

We investigated spatial fit between 30 different public water policies and four hydrologic services (surface and groundwater quality, freshwater supply, and flood regulation) in the Yahara Watershed (Wisconsin, USA)—a Midwestern landscape that typifies tensions between agriculture, urban development, and freshwater resources.

Methods

Spatial extent of water policy implementation was mapped, and indicators of hydrologic services were quantified for subwatersheds using empirical estimates and validated spatial models.

Results

We found a spatial misfit between the overall spatial implementation of water policy and regions of water quality concern, indicating a need for better targeting. Water quality policies can also be leveraged to protect other hydrologic services such as freshwater supply and flood regulation. Individual policy application areas varied substantially in their spatial congruence with each hydrologic service, indicating that not all services are protected by a single policy and highlighting the need for a broad spectrum of policies to sustain hydrologic services in diverse landscapes. We also identified where future policies could be targeted for improving hydrologic services.

Conclusions

Joint spatial analysis of policies and ecosystem services is effective for assessing spatial aspects of institutional fit, and provides a foundation for guiding future policy efforts.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Eric Booth and Chaoyi Chang for providing technical support on this study. Eric Booth provided valuable inputs and helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. We also appreciate constructive comments from four anonymous reviewers that greatly improved this manuscript. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation Water Sustainability and Climate grant (DEB 1038759) and Northern Temperate Lakes Long-Term Ecological Research (DEB 1440297).

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Correspondence to Jiangxiao Qiu.

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Qiu, J., Wardropper, C.B., Rissman, A.R. et al. Spatial fit between water quality policies and hydrologic ecosystem services in an urbanizing agricultural landscape. Landscape Ecol 32, 59–75 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0428-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0428-0

Keywords

  • Freshwater
  • Spatial overlap
  • Policy targeting
  • Surface-water quality
  • Groundwater quality
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Flood regulation
  • Landscape ecology
  • Yahara Watershed
  • Wisconsin