Water budgets provide a means for evaluating availability and sustainability of a water supply. A water budget simply states that the rate of change in water stored in an area, such as a watershed, is balanced by the rate at which water flows into and out of the area. An understanding of water budgets and underlying hydrologic processes provides a foundation for effective water-resource and environmental planning and management. Observed changes in water budgets of an area over time can be used to assess the effects of climate variability and human activities on water resources. Comparison of water budgets from different areas allows the effects of factors such as geology, soils, vegetation, and land use on the hydrologic cycle to be quantified.
Human activities affect the natural hydrologic cycle in many ways. Modifications of the land to accommodate agriculture, such as installation of drainage and irrigation systems, alter infiltration, runoff, evaporation, and plant transpiration rates. Buildings, roads, and parking lots in urban areas tend to increase runoff and decrease infiltration. Dams reduce flooding in many areas. Water budgets provide a basis for assessing how a natural or human-induced change in one part of the hydrologic cycle may affect other aspects of the cycle.
This report provides an overview and qualitative description of water budgets as foundations for effective water-resources and environmental management of freshwater hydrologic systems. Perhaps of most interest to the hydrologic community, the concepts presented are also relevant to the fields of agriculture, atmospheric studies, meteorology, climatology, ecology, limnology, mining, water supply, flood control, reservoir management, wetland studies, pollution control, and other areas of science, society, and industry. The first part of the report describes water storage and movement in the atmosphere, on land surface, and in the subsurface, as well as water exchange among these compartments. Our ability to measure these phenomena and inherent uncertainties in measurement techniques also are discussed. The latter part of the report presents a number of case studies that illustrate how water-budget studies are conducted, documents how human activities affect water budgets, and describes how water budgets are used to address water and environmental issues.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Water Budgets: Foundations for Effective Water-Resources and Environmental Management