Skip Links

USGS - science for a changing world

Circular 1308

Water Budgets: Foundations for Effective Water-Resources and Environmental Management

By Richard W. Healy, Thomas C. Winter, James W. LaBaugh, and O. Lehn Franke

Report cover and link to PDF

Report PDF (27.2 MB)

There are reported problems with this large file and those issues are being worked on. No resolution date is yet predicted.
You may continue to try for a successful download or try again later.
Apologies for any inconvenience.


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.

Suggested citation:

Healy, R.W., Winter, T.C., LaBaugh, J.W., and Franke, O.L., 2007, Water budgets: Foundations for effective water-resources and environmental management: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1308, 90 p.





Hydrologic Cycle

Storage and Movement of Water Within the Principal Compartments of the Hydrologic Cycle

Water in the Atmosphere

Water on Land Surface

Snow and Ice




Water in the Subsurface

Unsaturated Zone

Saturated Zone

Exchange of Water Between Compartments of the Hydrologic Cycle


Infiltration and Runoff


Exchange of Surface Water and Ground Water

Water-Budget Studies

Water Budget for a Small Watershed: Beaverdam Creek Basin, Maryland

Soil-Water Budgets for Prairie and Farmed Systems in Wisconsin

Water Budget of Mirror Lake, New Hampshire

Water Budget at a Waste Disposal Site in Illinois

Humans and the Hydrologic Cycle

Water Storage and Conveyance Structures

Land Use

Ground-Water Extraction

Water Budgets and Management of Hydrologic Systems

Large River System: Colorado River Basin

Watersheds and Reservoir Management

Aquifers in Arizona

Large Aquifer System: High Plains Aquifer

Water Budgets and Governmental Units: Lake Seminole

Agriculture and Habitat: Upper Klamath Lake

Water for Humans and Ecosystems: San Pedro River Ecosystem

Urban Water Supply: Chicago

Concluding Remarks

References Cited


Document Accessibility: Adobe Systems Incorporated has information about PDFs and the visually impaired. This information provides tools to help make PDF files accessible. These tools convert Adobe PDF documents into HTML or ASCII text, which then can be read by a number of common screen-reading programs that synthesize text as audible speech. In addition, an accessible version of Acrobat Reader 7.0 for Windows (English only), which contains support for screen readers, is available. These tools and the accessible reader may be obtained free from Adobe at Adobe Access.

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Page Last Modified: Wednesday, November 23 2016, 12:27:07 PM