Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


David W Watkins


Early water resources modeling efforts were aimed mostly at representing hydrologic processes, but the need for interdisciplinary studies has led to increasing complexity and integration of environmental, social, and economic functions. The gradual shift from merely employing engineering-based simulation models to applying more holistic frameworks is an indicator of promising changes in the traditional paradigm for the application of water resources models, supporting more sustainable management decisions. This dissertation contributes to application of a quantitative-qualitative framework for sustainable water resources management using system dynamics simulation, as well as environmental systems analysis techniques to provide insights for water quality management in the Great Lakes basin.

The traditional linear thinking paradigm lacks the mental and organizational framework for sustainable development trajectories, and may lead to quick-fix solutions that fail to address key drivers of water resources problems. To facilitate holistic analysis of water resources systems, systems thinking seeks to understand interactions among the subsystems. System dynamics provides a suitable framework for operationalizing systems thinking and its application to water resources problems by offering useful qualitative tools such as causal loop diagrams (CLD), stock-and-flow diagrams (SFD), and system archetypes. The approach provides a high-level quantitative-qualitative modeling framework for "big-picture" understanding of water resources systems, stakeholder participation, policy analysis, and strategic decision making. While quantitative modeling using extensive computer simulations and optimization is still very important and needed for policy screening, qualitative system dynamics models can improve understanding of general trends and the root causes of problems, and thus promote sustainable water resources decision making.

Within the system dynamics framework, a growth and underinvestment (G&U) system archetype governing Lake Allegan's eutrophication problem was hypothesized to explain the system's problematic behavior and identify policy leverage points for mitigation. A system dynamics simulation model was developed to characterize the lake's recovery from its hypereutrophic state and assess a number of proposed total maximum daily load (TMDL) reduction policies, including phosphorus load reductions from point sources (PS) and non-point sources (NPS). It was shown that, for a TMDL plan to be effective, it should be considered a component of a continuous sustainability process, which considers the functionality of dynamic feedback relationships between socio-economic growth, land use change, and environmental conditions.

Furthermore, a high-level simulation-optimization framework was developed to guide watershed scale BMP implementation in the Kalamazoo watershed. Agricultural BMPs should be given priority in the watershed in order to facilitate cost-efficient attainment of the Lake Allegan's TP concentration target. However, without adequate support policies, agricultural BMP implementation may adversely affect the agricultural producers. Results from a case study of the Maumee River basin show that coordinated BMP implementation across upstream and downstream watersheds can significantly improve cost efficiency of TP load abatement.