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.
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.
Vital Signs and Metrics
SCPN parks have identified 3 vital signs and associated metrics for this project:
1. Core water quality parameter
3. Water Chemistry
- Major ions
- Trace Metals
Monitored in These Parks and Streams
- Bandelier National Monument - Capulin Creek and Rito de los Frijoles
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument - Tsaile Creek and Chinle Wash
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area - Escalante River and Coyote Gulch
- Grand Canyon National Park - Bright Angel Creek and Garden Creek
- Mesa Verde National Park - Mancos River
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.
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.
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.
Last updated: November 19, 2018