The Project for Intercomparison of Land-surface Parameterization Schemes (PILPS) has shown that different land surface models (LSMs) driven by the same meteorological forcing can produce markedly different surface energy and water budgets, even when certain critical aspects of the LSMs (vegetation cover, albedo, turbulent drag coefficient, and snowcover) are carefully controlled. To help explain these differences, the authors devised a monthly water balance model that successfully reproduces the annual and seasonal water balances of the different PILPS schemes. Analysis of this model leads to the identification of two quantities that characterize an LSM's formulation of soil water balance dynamics: 1) the efficiency of the soil's evaporation sink integrated over the active soil moisture range, and 2) the fraction of this range over which runoff is generated. Regardless of the LSM's complexity, the combination of these two derived parameters with rates of interception loss, potential evaporation, and precipitation provides a reasonable estimate for the LSM's simulated annual water balance. The two derived parameters shed light on how evaporation and runoff formulations interact in an LSM, and the analysis as a whole underscores the need for compatibility in these formulations.