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Omernik, J.M. 2003. The misuse of hydrologic unit maps for extrapolation, reporting, and ecosystem management. J. Am. Water Resources Assn. 39(3)563-573. WED-02-070

The use of watersheds to conduct research on land/water relationships has expanded recently to include both extrapolation and reporting of water resource information and ecosystem management. More often than not, hydrologic units (HUs) are used for these purposes, with the implication that hydrologic units are synonymous with watersheds. Whereas true topographic watersheds are areas within which apparent surface water drains to a particular point, generally only 45 percent of all hydrologic units, regardless of their hierarchical level, meet this definition. Because the area contributing to the downstream point in many hydrologic units extends far beyond the unit boundaries, use of the hydrologic unit framework to show regional and national patterns of water quality and other environmental resources can result in incorrect and misleading illustrations. In this paper, the implications of this misuse are demonstrated using four adjacent HUs in central Texas. A more effective way of showing regional patterns in environmental resources is by using data from true watersheds representative of different ecological regions containing particular mosaics of geographical characteristics affecting differences in ecosystems and water quality.

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