As part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program, the effects of urbanization on stream ecosystems have been intensively investigated in six metropolitan areas in the United States. Approximately 30 watersheds in each area, ranging in size from 4 to 560 square kilometers (median is 50 square kilometers), and spanning a development gradient from very low to very high urbanization, were examined near Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and Milwaukee-Green Bay, Wisconsin. These six studies are a continuation of three previous studies in Boston, Massachusetts; Birmingham, Alabama; and Salt Lake City, Utah. In each study, geographic information system data for approximately 300 variables were assembled to (a) characterize the environmental settings of the areas and (b) establish a consistent multimetric urban intensity index based on locally important land-cover, infrastructure, and socioeconomic variables. This paper describes the key features of urbanization and the urban intensity index for the study watersheds within each area, how they differ across study areas, and the relation between the environmental setting and the characteristics of urbanization. A number of features of urbanization were identified that correlated very strongly to population density in every study area. Of these, road density had the least variability across diverse geographic settings and most closely matched the multimetric nature of the urban intensity index. A common urban intensity index was derived that ranks watersheds across all six study areas. Differences in local natural settings and urban geography were challenging in (a) identifying consistent urban gradients in individual study areas and (b) creating a common urban intensity index that matched the site scores of the local urban intensity index in all areas. It is intended that the descriptions of the similarities and differences in urbanization and environmental settings across these study areas will provide a foundation for understanding and interpreting the effects of urbanization on stream ecosystems in the studies being conducted as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program.
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USGS Numbered Series
A Comparison of Natural and Urban Characteristics and the Development of Urban Intensity Indices Across Six Geographic Settings