Available water is one of the key drivers of ecosystem function in the Southern Plains and provides insights into overall system productivity, shifts in species abundance and distributions, nutrient cycles, and the occurrence and ecosystem response to disturbance events. Natural disturbance processes such as fire, and human land-use activities including livestock grazing, agricultural clearing and groundwater pumping alter watershed conditions and water quantity levels and thus indirectly influence aquatic communities.
Characteristics of surface water discharge define perennial stream systems. The probability distribution of flows over a range of magnitudes shapes the landscape and the biological systems that develop in a watershed. Instantaneous discharge is one of the core water quality parameters but surface water quality is a separate vital sign because of the importance of surface water in the Southern Plains. The amount and timing of flow is controlled by watershed events, conditions, and channel morphological characteristics. In turn, flow rates influence water quality and biological parameters. Stream discharge is the parameter of interest for the surface water quantity vital sign. The monitoring objective for the surface water quantity vital sign is to determine long-term trends in stream flow in perennial stream reaches in Southern Plains Network parks. A protocol is currently under development with the Sonoran Desert Network to develop surface water quantity, surface water quality, and ground water quantity monitoring protocols.
Network Park Units Where Monitoring Occurs
Surface water quality monitoring is done in five parks within the Southern Plains Network. These parks are listed below.
- Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site
- Chickasaw National Recreation Area
- Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park
- Pecos National Historic Park
- Washita Battlefield National Historic Site