Water Quality Monitoring

Technician wearing waders and collecting water sample on gravel bar in a river
Collecting a water quality sample in the North Fork Cascade River, North Cascades National Park

NPS Photo

Importance & Issues

The high abundance of rivers and streams is a defining characteristic of the North Coast and Cascades Network. Ninety-four percent of Network parks land area is federally-designated wilderness and contains some of the highest quality remaining aquatic habitat in the Pacific Northwest. The prevalence of these resources gives water quality a high ecological, management, and legal significance for the network. The aquatic resources within the North Coast and Cascades Network support 38 native fish species, including unique stocks within these species, and 17 native amphibian species. They also support human uses, including contact and non-contact recreation and water supply.

The National Park Service goal is that every stream and river managed by the Service will meet State and Federal water quality standards, where it is within its capacity to achieve this. However, some water bodies within the North Coast and Cascades Network are impaired and need restoration or flow into an impaired water body. Aquatic systems integrate the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the watersheds they drain, putting them at an increased risk to a variety of environmental stressors. These stressors range from atmospheric pollution to localized disturbances related to past and present land management activities.

Parks Monitored

  • Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve
  • Lewis & Clark National Historical Park
  • Mount Rainier National Park
  • North Cascades National Park Complex
  • Olympic National Park

Monitoring Objectives

  • Determine the status and trends of the ecological conditions in selected rivers and streams in Network parks that are listed as impaired or at high risk of impairment under the Clean Water Act.
  • Compare water temperature data against state standards for chronic exceedance on a weekly, monthly, seasonal, and annual basis.
  • Compare indices of aquatic biological integrity against state standards for chronic exceedance on an annual basis.

Measures and Assessments

  • Dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance, temperature (Water Resources Division Core Parameters)

  • Continuous water temperature
  • Continuous air temperature
  • Abundance and species composition of benthic macroinvertebrates
  • Turbidity
  • Rapid Habitat Assessment (key in-stream and riparian habitat characteristics)

  • Characterization of stream physical habitat
  • Presence of invasive species

Management Applications

The prominent role aquatic resources play in Pacific Northwest landscapes gives water quality a high ecological, management, and legal significance for the North Coast and Cascades Network. These aquatic resources support threatened and endangered species and human uses, including contact and non-contact recreation and water supply.

Stress to North Coast and Cascade Network aquatic resources originates from many sources, most prominently from land management activities within and adjacent to Network parks; climate change; atmospheric deposition of pollutants and nutrients; aquatic and riparian non-native invasive species; large and small scale hydroelectric projects or dams, inside or outside parks, that restrict flow into or within a park; and visitor use activities. Our water quality monitoring will provide park managers and the public with scientifically sound information on water quality status and trends of the wadeable rivers and streams and on how well current management practices are sustaining aquatic ecosystems.

Reports and Documents

 

Last updated: August 6, 2018