Water Quality Monitoring

scientist testing the quality of water in a salt marsh
Water Quality Monitoring - NPS Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network

NPS Photo

The water resources contained in our ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes parks are invaluable, and it is a foundational goal of the National Park Service to preserve these resources unimpaired for future generations, and to restore those resources that have been impaired. In order to achieve these goals, we must regularly monitor the condition of our waters and their surrounding ecosystems. Knowledge of changes in water quality can help us to understand what factors are affecting our parks and what actions we can take to improve them.

The National Park Service has created several programs to monitor water quality in parks, including the Vital Signs water quality monitoring program, which is supported by the Natural Resources Challenge, and the NPS-USGS Water Quality Partnership program, developed through a collaboration between the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to help solve water resource management problems. Water quality and quantity are monitored at parks through these and other programs on a continuous, as-needed, seasonal, or emergency basis.

Changes in water quality alert us to problems and threats as they emerge. Using a variety of techniques, researchers can determine the levels of oxygen, pH, nutrients, metals, pesticides, and other materials in the water, as well as measure the temperature, flow, and amount of sediment. These measurements help to gauge whether or not a water body is impaired, meaning that it cannot fulfill one or more of its purposes, or unimpaired. You can volunteer at an ocean, coastal, or Great Lakes park to help monitor these changes and learn more about the condition of the park’s natural resources. Keep in mind that many volunteer projects include water quality monitoring as part of a larger program. If you are interested in participating in monitoring, check with the park you would like to volunteer at to see if other work, such as wetland or watershed restoration, has monitoring duties available.

For Further Reading

Maryland Coastal Bays Program at Assateague Island National Seashore

Hydrologic Monitoring Program at Everglades National Park


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    Last updated: December 9, 2021


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