Stream Water

Person standing in creek with water quality monitoring gear
A Hydrologic Tech, sets up monitoring equipment in Owens Creek at Catoctin Mountain Park. Photo: NPS/Nortrup

The entire National Capital Region Network (NCRN) is part of the 64,000 square mile watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. The vast majority of NCRN park streams fall within the Potomac River watershed, the Bay's second-largest tributary, and a few small parts of National Capital Parks - East (the Suitland Parkway and Baltimore and Washington Parkway) lie within the Patuxent River watershed.

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Water chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and surface water dynamics can all effect the productivity of ecosystems, shift the abundance and distribution of species, and alter nutrient cycles. All are important in maintaining a healthy habitat for aquatic organisms, wildlife, plants, and humans.


The NCRN monitors water in non-tidal, first through fourth order streams in NCRN parks. Water chemistry parameters measured include temperature, pH, specific conductance, salinity, acid neutralizing capacity, and dissolved oxygen. Nutrient dynamics parameters measured include total nitrate (NO3), and total phosphorous (PO4). Surface water dynamics parameters measured include flow, discharge, water depth, and wetted width.

Water monitoring occurs at 37 stream sites spread across Antietam National Battlefield, Catoctin Mountain Park, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Monocacy National Battlefield, National Capital Parks - East, Prince William Forest Park, Rock Creek Park, and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. This monitoring evaluates potential stressors in NCRN waters and complies with relevant environmental legislation and NPS mandates.

From the start of monitoring in June 2005 until October 2013, monitoring was done monthly. In October 2013, NCRN shifted to monitoring every three months. Also, starting in October 2012, a extremeley detailed monitoring began at 7 sites using continuous data logging devices that take measurements every 15 minutes. This continuous monitoring is best for capturing data that fluctuates on a daily basis or with storm events and is used to measure: conductivity, dissolved oxygen, air & water temperature, water level, and air pressure.


Assess variance in temperature, specific conductance, pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), nutrients and acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) in priority streams of the NCRN, on a monthly and seasonal basis as well as over the long term.

  • Assess trends in temperature, specific conductance, pH, DO, nutrients and ANC
  • Assess stream condition by comparing results against these thresholds:
    • Biological (determined through literature search).
    • Drinking water standards.
    • Environmental Protection Agency and state designated use standards.
    • Or previous variability.
  • Assess variability and trends of the flow volume (discharge) of surface water in major streams of NCRN parks.
  • Assess the availability of sufficient water for ecological, recreational, and aesthetic purposes of the parks.


Resource Briefs

Source: Data Store Saved Search 1620. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.


Source: Data Store Saved Search 1305. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.


Source: Data Store Saved Search 1615. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.


Query NCR Water Data at EPA Storet.

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    Last updated: May 18, 2022