From this year AGU established the Water Resources Research Editors' award, as reported in the AGU Hydrology Section Newsletter, an interesting reading per se. As Praveen Kumar writer: "The selection is
made by the WRR Editors based on technical significance, novelty, originality, presentation, and broader implications of the publication". And here they are the nominees (less than 1% of the papers published by the journal):
• Julien J. Harou, Josué Medellín-Azuara, Tingju Zhu, Stacy K. Tanaka, Jay R. Lund, Scott Stine,
Marcelo A. Olivares, and Marion W. Jenkins, “Economic consequences of optimized water management for a prolonged, severe drought in California” (doi:10.1029/2008WR007681).
• Luis Samaniego, Rohini Kumar, and Sabine Attinger, “Multiscale parameter regionalization of
a grid based hydrologic model at the mesoscale” (doi:10.1029/2008WR007327).
• Elizabeth H. Keating, John Doherty, Jasper A. Vrugt, and Qinjun Kang, “Optimization and
uncertainty assessment of strongly nonlinear groundwater models with high parameter dimensionality” (doi:10.1029/2009WR008584).
• Dmitri Kavetski and Martyn P. Clark, “Ancient numerical daemons of conceptual hydrological modeling: 2. Impact of time stepping schemes on model analysis and prediction” (doi:10.1029/2009WR008896).
• Lance F. W. Lesack and Philip Marsh, “River̺to̺lake connectivities, water renewal, and aquatic habitat diversity in the Mackenzie River Delta” (doi:10.1029/2010WR009607)
As any choice, it is a personal one. However, compare our own research with these papers' arguments and writing could be helpful. Just history will say if they will become benchmarks papers. Interesting to note, from the DOI that 2 of them had a quite long review process. Just the last one saw the light the same year it was submitted.