Water Quality Monitoring

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Woman squatting on a grassy bank next to a stream with a waterfall in the background. There is a long, white, cylindrical piece of equipment in the stream. The woman is writing on a clipboard.
A Southern Colorado Plateau field crew taking water quality measurements from a Hydrolab multi-parameter sonde in Garden Creek, Grand Canyon National Park.

NPS / SCPN

Perennial streams are rare on the Colorado Plateau, and most streams in the region are intermittent or ephemeral. Water quality data are used to characterize the condition of stream and spring waters, detect trends over time, and identify existing or emerging problems. The Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN) monitors water quality in network parks as an indicator of aquatic ecosystem integrity and as a component of watershed condition. Data gathered in this process documents water quality conditions in relation to state and federal regulations. Information on water quality status and trends helps to guide the development of resource management plans designed to maintain or restore surface water quality.

Physical and biological factors, such as geology and vegetation, can affect water quality. So can natural disturbance events such as catastrophic fire, flooding or climatic drought. Human activities, such as grazing and agriculture, can degrade water quality. Contaminated surface waters can harm aquatic life, and may pose health risks to people who come in contact with them, through recreation or other activities. SCPN's water quality monitoring program complements ongoing state, tribal, and other NPS monitoring programs. Together, these activities contribute to a broader regional understanding of water quality.

Monitoring Objectives

Specific objectives of water quality monitoring for the SCPN parks are

  • Determine status and trends in selected core water quality parameters (water temperature, pH, conductance, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and discharge) under base flow conditions at selected sites in priority streams and springs within SCPN parks as a function of flow, season and climatic condition.

  • Determine status and trends of water quality constituents including bacteria, nutrients, major elements, and trace metals at selected sites in priority streams and springs within SCPN parks.

  • Compare water quality data against state standards for chronic exceedences. Multiple exceedences in a year typically indicate non-compliance with state law.
Alt text: Photo of a grassy woodland with a hand holding a jar of brownish liquid in the foreground.
One of the core water quality parameters that SCPN measures in streams is turbidity.

NPS / SCPN

Vital Signs and Metrics

SCPN parks have identified 3 vital signs and associated metrics for this project:

1. Core water quality parameter

  • Temperature

  • pH

  • Specific conductance

  • Dissolved oxygen

  • Turbidity

  • Flow

2. Bacteria

  • E. coli

  • Total coliforms

3. Water Chemistry

  • Nutrients

  • Major Elements

  • Major ions
  • Trace Metals

Monitored in These Parks and Streams



Monitoring Project Status

Water quality will be is monitored quarterly at selected streams in five SCPN parks. Pilot studies were initiated in 2007 and stream water quality monitoring was implemented in 2010. SCPN sends water quality samples to the US Geological Survey's National Water Quality Laboratory for analysis of selected water quality constituents.

The Water Quality Monitoring Protocol for Streams and Springs in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network was published in November 2016.

Project Contact

Stacy Stumpf, Aquatic Ecologist

Reports and Publications

Monroe, S. A., M. Dyer, S. Stumpf, C. Bliss, and C. Parker. 2016. Water quality monitoring protocol for streams and springs in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network. Natural Resource Report NPS/SCPN/NRR—2016/1298. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Monitoring Reports

Periodically, we publish reports on each vital sign that describe what we are learning in the field. These monitoring reports are more in-depth than resource briefs and include data analysis and a discussion of our findings. Our monitoring reports provide the most recent published findings from our field work. 

Source: Data Store Saved Search 3267. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

Last updated: November 19, 2018