Beaver Creek, Montezuma Castle National Monument
Beaver Creek, Montezuma Castle National Monument. NPS/A.W. Biel


Streams, and their associated riparian areas, are critical to ecological integrity. Riparian areas supply food, cover, and water, and serve as wildlife migration routes. They also help control water pollution, reduce erosion, mitigate floods, and increase groundwater recharge. Riparian systems perform numerous ecosystem functions important to humans, yet are one of the most endangered forest types in the United States.

Some of the Southwest’s major rivers and tributaries flow through Sonoran Desert Network parks. These streams, and the riparian systems they support, are vital parts of those parks. Yet they are affected by many influences upstream and well beyond park boundaries. Monitoring the ecology and hydrology of these rivers from multiple perspectives is key to understanding and managing them.

To gain a complete picture of stream health, the Sonoran Desert Network monitors the status and trends of six different parameters:

  • water quality (core water quality parameters, nutrients, metals, toxins, and other factors),
  • water quantity (flow volume, flooding magnitude and frequency),
  • channel morphology (shape and habitat of the stream channel),
  • riparian vegetation (type, abundance, and communities of river-related plants),
  • macroinvertebrates (small crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and aquatic insects), and
  • fish (native and non-native fish abundance and frequency).

Park managers can use this information to guide management actions. Monitoring results can also provide early warning of potential problems. Many issues are easier and cheaper to fix if they are caught earlier, rather than later.

Streams monitoring also sheds light on the overall condition of a watershed. This allows park managers to address broad-scale issues with other agencies and adjacent land owners. Finally, stream conditions provide insights into broader landscape conditions. The importance and influence of stream systems and the services they provide extends far beyond their relatively small land area.

For more information, contact Andy Hubbard.

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    Legacy briefs for climate and water monitoring are also available.

    Last updated: June 20, 2023