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Pervasive alteration of flow in US streams and rivers

Published On: 11/8/2010

A new USGS national assessment finds that nearly 90% of US streams and rivers have altered flow.

 
The amount of water flowing in streams and rivers has been significantly altered in nearly 90% of waters that were assessed in a new nationwide USGS study, which is the most geographically extensive analysis to date. Flow alterations are a primary contributor to degraded river ecosystems and loss of native species. The severity and type of stream flow alteration varies among regions, due to natural landscape features, land practices, degree of development, and water demand. Differences are especially large between arid and wet climates. In wet climates, watershed management is often focused on flood control, which can result in lower maximum flows and higher minimum flows. Extremely low flows are the greatest concern in arid climates, in large part due to groundwater withdrawals and high water use for irrigation.

The study identified over 1,000 unimpaired streams to use as reference points to create stream flow models. The models were applied to estimate expected flows for 2,888 additional streams where the USGS had flow monitoring gauges from 1980-2007. The estimated values for the 2,888 streams were compared to actual, measured flows to determine the degree to which streams have been altered.

This study was conducted by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program, which has assessed the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of streams and rivers across the nation since 1991.Water-quality data from more than 1,300 locations, much of it in real-time, are available through USGS Water Quality Watch. Instant, customized updates about water conditions also are available by subscribing to WaterAlert.

Click here to read the USGS press release.





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