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MODEL SELECTION CRITERIA

Mathematical models can be characterized as empirical (also known as statistical) or mechanistic (process-oriented), but most useful models have elements of both types. An empirical model is based on a statistical fit to data as a way to statistically identify relationships between stressor and response variables. A mechanistic model is a mathematical characterization of the scientific understanding of the critical biogeochemical processes in the natural system; the only data input is in the selection of model parameters and initial and boundary conditions. Box 4-1 presents a simple explanation of the difference between the two types of models.

Water quality models for TMDL development are typically classified as either watershed (pollutant load) models or as waterbody (pollutant response) models. A watershed model is used to predict the pollutant load to a waterbody as a function of land use and pollutant discharge; a waterbody model is used to predict pollutant concentrations and other responses in the waterbody as a function of the pollutant load. Thus, the waterbody model is necessary for determining the TMDL that meets the water quality standard, and a watershed model is necessary for allocating the TMDL among sources. Some comprehensive modeling frameworks [e.g., BASINS (EPA, 2001) and Eutromod (Reckhow et al., 1992)] include both, but most water quality models are of one or the other type. Except where noted, the comments in this chapter reflect both watershed and waterbody models; examples presented may address one or the other model type as needed to illustrate concepts.

Although prediction typically is made with a mathematical model, there are certainly situations in which expert judgment can and should be employed. Furthermore, although in many cases a complex mathematical model can be developed, the model best suited for the situation may be relatively simple, as noted in examples described later in the chapter. Indeed, reliance on professional judgment and simpler modeling will be acceptable in many cases, and is compatible with the adaptive approach to TMDLs described in Chapter 5.

Highly detailed models are expensive to develop and apply and may be time consuming to execute. Much of the concern over costs of TMDLs appears to be based on the assumption that detailed modeling techniques will be required for most TMDLs. In the quest to efficiently allocate TMDL resources, states should recognize that simpler analyses can often support informed decision-making and that complex modeling studies should be pursued only if warranted by the complexity of the



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