Water Quality Monitoring

Field crew member works on a sonde at the back of truck.
Field crew member makes preparations for water-quality monitoring at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Brian Witcher/NPS

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (BISO) and the Obed Wild and Scenic River (OBRI) are both largely dependent on land use activities upstream of park boundaries. The Big South Fork River lies within a predominately rural region, the economy of which has historically been closely linked with industries of resource extraction that adversely affect land and water resources in the absence of effective environmental controls. The New River, a major tributary to the Big South Fork, is the most heavily mined watershed in the Tennessee coal field, and has been subject to escalated timbering and oil and gas development in recent years. Acidic drainage and erosion from mined lands, along with contaminants associated with logging and oil and gas extraction, are a continuing concern in the New River and elsewhere in the Big South Fork watershed.

Water resources at the Obed WSR have also been affected by extractive industries, but at a lower intensity than at the Big South Fork. Municipal and surburban population growth has expanded in recent years, along with associated development of retirement communities and golf resorts, primarily along the I-40 highway corridor near Crossville, Tennessee. Increased municipal and industrial water demand and wastewater discharge, in conjunction with anticipated demand for tributary impoundment at residential developments and for agriculture, are potentially significant stressors to Obed WSR and Big South Fork NRRA water resources in the future, especially during seasons of poorly sustained streamflow.

The linear park corridor of The Blue Ridge Parkway (BLRI) closely follows the crest of the Southern Appalachian Mountains which represents a different challenge. Parkway resource managers can more readily control headwater land use activities in much of the park, but external water resource stressors do exist where streams enter the park corridor from outside park boundaries and through acidic deposition in the highlands. Blue Ridge Parkway water resources are diverse, and include high elevation seeps and springs, upland wetlands, and managed coldwater fisheries in larger parkway tracts.

Water-quality monitoring by the network will:

  1. Determine long-term trends in seasonal and annual concentrations of bacteria, nutrients, sediment, selected trace metals, and physical parameters in streams, rivers and wetlands within Big South Fork NRRA, Blue Ridge Parkway and Obed WSR.
  2. Improve our understanding of the relationships among water quality, water quantity, and park aquatic resources, including network vital signs (freshwater mussels, rare fish, cobblebar communities, and aquatic macroinvertebrates).

Appalachian Highlands Network staff will conduct field water quality and laboratory bacteriological analyses in-house. Laboratory support will be provided through agreements with the Colorado State University Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado and with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Sediment Lab in Louisville, Kentucky for a suite of analytical constituents relevant to the monitoring objectives of all three parks. Water-quality parameters have been selected to reflect potential impacts associated with major threats, including oil and gas extraction (BISO, OBRI), coal mining (BISO, OBRI), acid deposition (BLRI), agricultural development, industrial pollution, and sewage effluent (all parks). Analytical results will also provide a basis for characterizing pristine waters in the parks.

Last updated: May 7, 2018