For the more information about water resources in the National Park Service, please visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/water/.


Sitka Sound from the visitor center at Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska.

Water Quality Program

The Water Quality Program is part of the Aquatic Systems Branch of the Water Resources Division. Water quality activities are broadly categorized into three program areas: 1) national program coordination and management; 2) project proposal development, funding, and management; and 3) technical assistance and support to parks. Currently, the primary focus of the program is on managing the Vital Signs Water Quality Monitoring program. Considerable support is also provided for managing the NPS-USGS Water Quality Partnership program and participating on interagency groups like the National Water Quality Monitoring Council. Technical assistance to parks on water quality and contaminants issues remains a high priority. Directly funded project support has diminished because the Division has been unable to financially support the Water Resources Competitive project program in recent years.

The Vital Signs water quality monitoring program, supported by the Natural Resources Challenge, is designed to track and support attainment of NPS and Department of the Interior strategic goals to protect pristine water quality and improve impaired water quality by supporting the Clean Water Act protections and provisions for designated unimpaired and impaired waters. NPS offices are integrating the water quality monitoring component of the program with the monitoring of other vital signs in parks. Therefore, water quality monitoring may emphasize the support of protected uses through water quality standards as developed by the states, or emphasize the characterization and determination of trends in water quality conditions due to influences like climate change and urbanization. As of 2012 about 110 parks had at least one waterbody that did not meet one or more water quality standards. Annual funding for this water quality monitoring in national parks is approximately $2.6 million.

The NPS-USGS Water Quality Partnership program is a mutual collaboration that began in 1998. The goal of the partnership program is to develop information on park water quality to enable NPS to address its most critical water quality management responsibilities. Both agencies view the water quality partnership as a positive example of the progress that can be achieved by working together to solve resource management problems. Annual funding support for the partnership program is approximately $2.0 million.

Thirty-two network Vital Signs monitoring plans are completed. Most of these plans address water quality and water resources but save the monitoring details for the monitoring protocols and Standard Operating Procedures. To date, water quality protocols have been completed in all networks. Water quality and aquatic protocols are being produced for wadable streams, large rivers, lakes and ponds, seeps and springs, wetlands and wetland habitats, groundwater, estuaries and marine areas, amphibians, macroinvertebrates, fish, stream flow, nutrients, and toxic contaminants. Over $5 million is being invested annually for aquatic Vital Signs monitoring in parks (including $2.6 million from NRSS-WRD).


Water Quality Program Brief

Last Updated: June 21, 2013