• Wind Cave National Park - Two Worlds

    Wind Cave

    National Park South Dakota

Resource Ramblings 2006-04

Stream Water Quality Monitoring at Wind Cave

Since December of 1998, Resource Management staff have been collecting monthly water quality parameters on the three perennial park streams (Beaver, Highland, and Cold Spring Creeks.) The parameters gathered include dissolved oxygen, oxygen saturation, temperature, pH, conductivity, specific conductivity, salinity, and turbidity. These parameters are indicators to monitor the condition of the water. Having many years worth of data provides us with a baseline of stream condition, and will enable us to determine if there are any changes in the quality of the water. Currently the overall heath of the park streams is good, with no parameter being suspect.


Oxygen (mg/L)

Temp (F)


Conductivity (uhos/cm)

Turbidity (ntu)













Cold Spring






Average parameters of park streams

In an attempt to keep this short, a description of only five of the eight parameters is included.

Oxygen is measured in its dissolved form in milligrams per liter (mg/L), which is the amount of oxygen in a liter of water. Sources of oxygen-consuming pollutants include wastewater from sewage treatment plants, storm water runoff from farmland or urban streets, feedlots, and failing septic systems.

Temperature affects the oxygen content of the water; the rate of photosynthesis by aquatic plants; the metabolic rates of aquatic organisms; and the sensitivity of organisms to toxic wastes, parasites, and diseases. Unnatural causes of temperature change include removal of shading stream bank vegetation, impoundments, and storm water.

Water Quality Monitoring at Cold Spring Creek

pH is a term used to indicate the alkalinity or acidity of a substance as ranked on a scale from 1.0 to 14.0. Acidity of water increases as pH gets lower. pH affects many chemical and biological processes in the water. Causes of acid change include atmospheric deposition (acid rain), surrounding rock, and wastewater discharges.

Conductivity is a measure of the ability of water to pass an electrical current, and is useful as a general measure of stream water quality. Each stream tends to have a relatively constant range of conductivity that, once established, can be used as a baseline for comparison with regular conductivity measurements. Significant changes in conductivity could then be an indicator that a discharge or some other source of pollution has entered a stream.

Turbidity is a measure of water clarity. Higher turbidity increases water temperatures because suspended particles absorb more heat. This, in turn, reduces the concentration of dissolved oxygen because warm water holds less oxygen than cold. Higher turbidity also reduces the amount of light penetrating the water, which reduces photosynthesis and the production of oxygen. Regular monitoring of turbidity can help detect trends that might indicate increasing erosion in the watershed.

Marc Ohms monitoring a stream
Marc Ohms monitoring a stream
NPS Photo

GIS Licenses

Our park has five licenses to run the Geographic Information System (GIS) software, ArcMap. How this works is when user “A” starts ArcMap, one of the licenses is ‘checked out’ from the server, leaving four licenses for other users. Over the past six months or so there has been an increase in users taking advantage the software. There was one point when all of the licenses were in use, which means more people are using GIS. One of the more common projects people have been working on is creating graphics to help explain a situation or for use as a geographic reference, i.e. “…this is where the trail is if you would like to walk through poison ivy”. A visual representation can be valuable to any document or presentation, enforcing the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. With our increasing data library and more widely available satellite imagery, quality graphics are easier to create than in the past.

More involved use of GIS is examining data to discover unknown situations. This type of data use is part of “analysis” and is not as straight forward as building a graphic. Data analysis is more time intensive and takes more effort from the user but the results are well worth the effort. Questions can be explored such as, “Where do most animal/vehicle accidents occur? Why are they occurring there? Where are the elk on the landscape during hunting season? How far do coyotes range outside of the park?” Simply exploring the data can reveal useful information to the user. As many of you know the learning curve with any new software is steep, particularly so with ArcMap. If your work could benefit from GIS and you have a good attitude toward learning, take the time to experience what ArcMap could do for you. There will be training sessions coming up this spring and there are several options for learning at your own pace. To be added to the GIS mailing list send a note to Bill Koncerack or stop by Resource Management and talk with Bill.

Comments and feedback about Resource Ramblings are encouraged and can be made to Dan Foster, in person, or via email.

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