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Freshwater Resources Management

Water Resources Management

Water quality issues

Many units of the National Park System are confronted with threats of water pollution from sources within, as well as external to, their boundaries. The 1987 servicewide natural resources assessment identified 480 water quality issues affecting or potentially affecting 170 parks. The scope and extent of these water quality issues varied greatly, but the majority were related to surrounding land-use activities such as oil and gas development, mining, encroaching urbanization, industrial activity, agricultural practices, or land development (including sewage effluent discharge and landfill leaching). The severity of water quality degradation (of both surface and groundwater) and the constituents affected depend upon the type and the extent of the activity, watershed and aquifer characteristics, and effectiveness of mitigative measures. It should be noted that the majority of water quality issues identified in the assessment were associated with nonpoint sources of pollution (as opposed to point sources of pollution such as pipes or other discrete sources). Information pertaining to constituents likely to be affected by specific types of activity can be found in Kunkle et al. (1987) and Galbraith (1980).

Policy and objectives

Maintaining water in its natural condition, free of pollutants generated by human activity, is an important goal of NPS managers. The goal of the NPS as expressed in Management Policies is to preserve and protect entire ecosystems, an integral part of which are water and aquatic resources. In addition, the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972 and substantially amended in 1977 and 1987, was designed to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation's waters, including those of the National Park System. In addition, Section 313 of the Clean Water Act requires the NPS, in implementing its management activities, to "…. comply with all federal, state, interstate, and local requirements, administrative authority, and process and sanctions respecting the control and abatement of water pollution in the same manner and to the same extent as any non-governmental entity including the payment reasonable service charges."

The NPS Management Policies states that:

The National Park Service will perpetuate surface and groundwaters as integral components of park aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.... The Service will determine the quality of park surface and ground water resources and avoid, whenever possible, the pollution of park waters by human activities occurring within and outside of parks. The Srvice will:

  • Work with appropriate governmental bodies to obtain the highest possible standards available under the Clean water Act for the protection of park waters;
  • Take all necessary actions to maintain or restore the quality of surface waters and ground waters within the parks consistent with the Clean Water Act and all other applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations; and
  • Enter into agreements with other agencies and governing bodies, as appropriate, to secure their cooperation in maintaining or restoring the quality of park water resources.

In addition to the Clean Water Act, water quality is protected by provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act; the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). For example, under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Underground Injection Control Program prohibits the subsurface emplacement of fluids that could contaminate current or future underground sources of drinking water, and under RCRA, underground storage tanks are regulated to prevent leaking and possible contamination of the environment including surface and groundwater resources.

Section 319 (USC 33 1329) of the Clean Water Act and Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Management Act (16 U.S.C. -1455b) requires that individual states develop programs and Best Management Practice and management measures to reduce human caused nonpoint sources of water pollution. A best management practice is a practice or combination of practices that are determined by a state or a designated planning agency to be the most effective and practicable means (including technological, economic, and institutional considerations) of controlling nonpoint pollutants at levels compatible with environmental quality goals.

Provisions in Section 319 require the National Park Service to conduct its activities and projects in a manner that is consistent with state nonpoint source management programs if those programs or projects have been listed in the Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance. Certain National Park Service programs are identified as pertinent Federal Assistance Programs and Development Projects and are thus eligible for review by states for consistency with their nonpoint source management plans. These programs are (1) national park seashore management and proposed actions, (2) wildlife management, (3) grazing management, and (4) abandoned mines management. Section 319(k) further directs federal agencies to "accommodate" the management concerns of the state for these programs. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1998).

All states now have nonpoint source assessment reports approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and are implementing their management programs. States have developed Best Management Practice for many activities that may be conducted inside or outside of park boundaries, including:

    cropland and pasture management,
    animal waste management,
    hydrologic modifications, including provisions for fish habitat improvements, bank stabilization, and crossings,
    grazing by wildlife and domestic livestock,
    boat marinas,
    pesticide and fertilizer use,
    road construction, and
    urban runoff.

All parks that permit, manage, and/or conduct the above activities, or if any of the activities occur in watersheds that contribute to park water bodies, are encouraged and advised to obtain their respective state’s nonpoint source program management plans and incorporate appropriate Best Management Practice into their resource management plans or individual project plans.

The Clean Water Act Section 402 (33 USC 1342) requires the NPS to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit (NPDES) for any facility that discharges pollutants from a point source into waters of the United States. The most common discharge at NPS units requiring a permit is associated with domestic wastewater treatment facilities. Other discharges requiring permits include waste streams associated with industrial process water, non-contact cooling water, and oil and gas and mining activities. The NPDES permit is issued by a state if the state has received permitting authority from the EPA. If a state is not authorized to administer the NPDES permitting program, then the permit must be obtained from one of the 10 EPA regional offices. The permit establishes numerical limitations on the pollutants being discharged and is normally issued for a five-year period.

The 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act added Section 402(p), which brought stormwater runoff "associated with industrial activity" under the control of the NPDES program. Industrial activities that qualify for permitting under the stormwater program are identified by Standard Industrial Classifications (SIC), which can be found at 40 C.F.R 122.26. The most common activity that the NPS conducts that is subject to the stormwater permitting requirements is construction that results in the disturbance of five or more acres of total land. Other regulated industrial activities that may be subject to stormwater permitting in NPS units are landfills that have received hazardous wastes, certain recycling facilities, and certain transportation facilities that have vehicle maintenance shops. Park personnel are urged to consult with their respective state regulators or the EPA if they have any questions regarding the applicability of the stormwater regulations to facilities or activities within the park.

Managers should also petition (under section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act) the Environmental Protection Agency (Environmental Protection Agency) Regional Administrator for Sole Source Aquifer designation for aquifers supplying groundwater to park water supplies.

Water quality standards

A primary means for protecting water quality under the Water Quality Act is the establishment of water quality standards. Generally, water quality standards are established by the states (though subject to federal approval) and consist of three components: (1) the designated beneficial uses of a water body, such as contact recreation, aquatic life, cold water fishery, or body contact recreation (i.e. swimming or wading); (2) the numerical or narrative criteria that define the limits of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of water that are sufficient to protect the beneficial uses; and (3) an anti-degradation provision to protect the existing uses of water. The standards are applicable to all waters of the United States and, depending on the state water quality program, may also apply to groundwater.

Water quality criteria developed to protect specific uses are updated periodically by the Environmental Protection Agency. New and revised criteria are published in the Federal Register, and summarized periodically in Quality Criteria for Water (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1986). Quality Criteria for Water, also known as "the Gold Book," recommends criteria for a state's Water Quality Standards. It is an important reference for natural resource managers dealing with water quality issues.

A state’s anti-degradation policy is a three-tiered approach for maintaining and protecting various levels of water quality. In Tier 1 waters, the existing uses of a water body and the quality necessary to protect the uses must be maintained. This is considered to be the base level of protection that must be applied to the water body. If the water quality in a water body already exceeds the minimum requirements for the protection of the designated uses (Tier 2), then the existing water quality must be maintained. The third level provides protection for the state’s highest quality waters or where ordinary use classification my not suffice; these water bodies are Tier 3 waters and are classified as Outstanding National Resource Waters. The existing water quality must be maintained and protected in an Outstanding National Resource Waters, and only short-term changes may be permitted. Outstanding National Resource Waters status, in most cases, is a desirable designation to acquire for National Park Service units with significant water resources management responsibilities.

Water quality standards are primarily obtained by controlling the point source discharges of pollutants into receiving waters through Clean Water Act Section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and the implementation of Clean Water Act Section 303d Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL’s) on water bodies that have chronic and persistent violations of water quality standards. The objective of a TMDL is to allocate allowable loads among different pollutant sources so that the appropriate control actions can be taken and water quality standards achieved. The TMDL provides an estimate of pollutant loadings from all sources and predicts the resulting pollutant concentrations (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1991). Section 303d requires states to identify water bodies eligible for TMDLs by developing and publishing a listing of all waters that do not fully support existing or designated beneficial uses because existing technology-based effluent limitations and nonpoint source pollution controls are not stringent enough to achieve applicable water quality standards. States are required to "consider" all existing and readily available data in assembling the 303d list, including water identified by academic institutions, federal and state agencies, and members of the public as not meeting water quality standards. Parks are strongly encouraged to provide appropriate water quality assessments in response to formal solicitations of the states.

Maximum Contaminant Levels for drinking water are developed under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, for which states have primary enforcement responsibility, are updated periodically by the Environmental Protection Agency. New and revised standards are published in the Federal Register. In addition, the National Park Service has guidelines for monitoring the chemical composition, bacteriological levels and radionuclides for water supply systems throughout the National Park System. Oftentimes, these monitoring requirements are even more stringent than those required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Additional information regarding water quality standards and monitoring applicable to units of the national park can be found in DO/RM 83 Public Health.

Because water quality standards vary from state to state, and constituent criteria vary from use to use, and use designations vary from water body to water body (and sometimes from reach to reach in a river or stream), NPS personnel at the park level should be familiar with specific state water quality standards pertaining to the water resources in and entering NPS parks. Specific actions that the park should take include:

  • participating in a state's required triennial review of water quality standards to ensure that state standards adequately protect park aquatic resources,
  • alerting the water resource coordinator, designated in each NPS region, to upstream point source discharge applications for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits that could affect the quality of water within an NPS unit,
  • encouraging states to apply effective anti-degradation standards and nonpoint source pollution policies to those stream segments most likely to affect park water resources,
  • working with state, county, and local agencies to develop and implement appropriate nonpoint source pollution control practices on NPS lands and lands upstream from NPS units, and
  • working with local, state, and federal agencies to implement applicable groundwater protection programs.

Water quality monitoring

Water quality monitoring is often required within NPS units in response to management concerns. An effective monitoring program requires initial planning efforts to identify potential water quality issues and to precisely define park management objectives. Sampling design, data collection, data analysis, and reporting processes are strongly influenced by management's monitoring objectives. For NPS units, monitoring objectives almost always entail one or more of the following.

  • Evaluation of impacts caused by a particular water or land use or combination of water or land uses.
  • Evaluation of compliance with local, state, or federal standards or legal requirements.
  • Gathering of baseline data to characterize existing water quality for general inventory, to establish preexisting (historical) conditions, or to establish long-term trends, using, for example, previous water gaging stations or groundwater monitoring wells.

    When objectives are defined, water quality monitoring sampling design should proceed using the following six-step procedure (adapted from Sanders et al., 1983).

    1. Determine sampling site locations. Carefully review all existing information, including the available literature, upstream land uses and associated point and nonpoint sources of pollution, delineation of watershed characteristics, and analysis of previously collected data, in order to determine the most appropriate sampling locations.
    2. Select water quality parameters and sampling frequencies. Water quality parameters and sampling frequencies for NPS monitoring programs should be determined according to guidance provided in Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring in this Reference Manual, and with design consultation sought from water resource professionals familiar with monitoring programs in the local area. A further discussion of parameter selection has also been provided by Averett (1978).
    3. Choose methods needed to sample the selected parameters. 40 CFR 136 provides a listing of methods approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
    4. Evaluate costs, logistics, quality control, and quality assurance needs, and possible legal requirements (e.g., chain of custody used for rules of evidence) in order to select the most effective implementation strategy (e.g., in-house, cooperative agreement, interagency agreement, contractor, certified laboratory, etc.).
    5. Determine methods of data analysis, storage, and retrieval to be used. A discussion of this topic is provided in Water Quality Surveys (UNESCO 1978).
    6. Determine reports to be prepared and how data will be used in decision-making.

Additionally, procedures for quality control should be incorporated in all monitoring plans. These procedures include the following.

  • Calibration of sampling equipment, recording field instruments, and flow measuring devices.
  • Selection of appropriate standard methods for sampling, preserving, storing, and transporting samples.
  • Ensuring that the appropriate standard curves are completed to ensure that the levels of detection and levels of accuracy are verified.
  • Use of an inter-laboratory quality control program sufficient to meet Environmental Protection Agency laboratory certification or the equivalent.

Changes brought about by the Water Quality Act of 1987 increase the emphasis on the use of bioassays and biological monitoring. The appropriate use of bioassays and biological monitoring in units of the National Park System will be addressed in Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring in this Reference Manual.

For surface water resources, most water quality monitoring programs should include concurrent discharge measurements. For groundwater resources, most water quality monitoring programs should include spring discharge measurements and periodic measurements of the depth to water in monitoring wells. When siting monitoring wells, it is important to identify the depth to and thickness of water-producing zones, the aquifer characteristics (geologic formation, transmissivity, and storage coefficient), other pertinent site characteristics (e.g., land surface elevation at the well head), and well construction data. The constituent(s) for which water samples will be tested determines the type of well casing and screen that should be used for monitoring wells.

Cooperation with other agencies

Monitoring, regulation, and protection of water quality is a responsibility shared by many local, state, and federal agencies that have mandates for land use planning, natural resource management, and/or environmental protection. The NPS should work actively with these agencies to enhance program cooperation, efficiency, and effectiveness. Cooperative activities include (but are not limited to) the following.

  • Consulting with federal (e.g., U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency), state, local, and Native American agencies in the design of complementary and effective monitoring networks.
  • Providing water quality monitoring data to the Environmental Protection Agency's Water Quality Storage and Retrieval system (STORET), which serves as the primary national repository for stream and lake water quality data.
  • Providing regulatory agencies with information regarding NPS compliance with point source and nonpoint source pollution control programs.
  • Consulting with appropriate Native American, local, state, and federal agencies regarding planned upstream activities, permit applications, and water quality issues of concern to the NPS.

Water Quantity Management

Water quantity issues

Numerous water quantity issues, concerns, and needs have been identified as natural resource management issues in many NPS units. Examples include:

  • lack of adequate and secure water rights,
  • alteration of stream flow regimes,
  • increased erosion and sedimentation resulting from changing land use activities (e.g., deforestation and urbanization),
  • lowering of groundwater levels, and potential land subsidence, due to increased groundwater pumping,
  • protection of geothermal resources (see Geological Resources Management in this Reference Manual),
  • adequate water for park operations and visitors,
  • lowering of groundwater level by accelerated stream bed erosion, and
  • lowering of groundwater level by nonnative streambank plants.

As demands for water continue to increase, it is imperative that superintendents maintain a constant awareness of proposals concerning upstream diversions, groundwater withdrawals, water resources development projects, urbanization, stormwater control projects, changes in land use, and weather modification (e.g., cloud seeding) that could affect park water resources.

Policy and objectives

The NPS will manage and use water to protect resources, accommodate visitors, and administer park units within legal mandates (See Management Policies Chapter 4). Special Directive 78-2 implements the NPS General Authorities Act (16 U.S.C. 1a-2(e), or P.L. 91-383, as amended) and describes the limited authority under which the NPS may allow park water to be used for other purposes. NPS water delivery systems are to be designed to conserve water (see Management Policies 9:1.5). The following sections provide additional guidance for implementing these policies or their subsequent revisions or replacements.

Water rights

1. Valid existing rights to water

Park units may be created from a combination of lands from the public domain, previous federal reservations, and state or private ownership. The creative authorizations generally recognize the continuation of all valid water rights existing as of the date the unit is established. However, many times the land use changes when federal lands change status or state or private lands are acquired for park purposes. In these situations, the interest of the United States may be best served by acquiring the valid existing water rights and either extinguishing or changing them to serve park needs. Valid existing water rights of concessionaires and land-use permittees on federal lands will be acquired by the United States as funds, legal authority, and management objectives permit. Water rights owned by inholders within parks will be acquired in connection with the acquisition of said private lands when practicable and when the rights are needed for park protection or management.

2. Establishing rights to water

The NPS will establish rights to water in conformance with federal and state law and procedures. Legal doctrines that may legitimize water rights include the following.

Federal reserved water rights  
The doctrine of federal reserved water rights was created with a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1908 case, Winters v. United States (207 U.S. 564 (1908)). The Court determined that the government implicitly reserves sufficient amounts of water to carry out the purposes of a federal reservation. Federal reserved water rights have a priority as of the date of the reservation and are senior to the rights of future appropriators (Winters v. United States, supra.). Under this doctrine, what is reserved is only that amount necessary for the purposes of the reservation (Arizona v. California, 373 U.S. 546 (1963); Winters v. United States, supra; Cappaert v. United States, 726 U.S. 128 (1976)). However, case law also allowed quantities for both present and future reservation needs (Arizona v. California, supra). The doctrine has also been used by the court to effect a permanent injunction to limit groundwater withdrawals that were adversely affecting the water level of a pool containing an endangered pupfish at Devil's Hole, a detached unit of Death Valley National Park (Cappaert, supra).

Riparian water rights 
Riparian water rights are recognized in most eastern states. Under this doctrine, the authority to use water originates with ownership of riparian land, or land that includes or borders a body of water. The amount of use allowable is usually a "reasonable" amount so long as it does not interfere with another riparian land owner’s "reasonable" use from the same body of water. Many riparian doctrine states have added a permit system to facilitate the regulation of large water uses.

Prior appropriation water rights
The prior appropriation water rights doctrine is adopted by most western states. It is based on the concept of "first in time, first in right." A right is generally established by a permit application with the measure of the right determined by the amount of beneficial use. Seniority in time gives a water user priority over users that establish later, or junior, water rights. The procedures and elements of quantification for prior appropriation rights are generally documented in state statutes or regulations.

Groundwater rights
Many states have laws that treat authorizations to use groundwater different than surface water. In many western states, the doctrine of prior appropriation is applied to groundwater in a similar way to surface water. Hydrologic interconnection between ground and surface water may be considered in evaluating potential impacts from proposed water uses. Some western states, however, treat groundwater as a benefit of land ownership. In this view, a landowner is allowed to pump as much groundwater from their land as is desired. The law may provide affected neighbors either no recourse (each landowner has full ownership rights), or pumping limitations to the extent that the reduced groundwater availability is shared among all landowners with access to the same groundwater source (each landowner has correlative rights). Eastern states generally treat groundwater as either a full ownership right or correlative right.

3. Determination of water rights and needs

All rights to the use of water diverted to or used on federal lands within the National Park System by the United States or its concessioners, lessors, or permittees will be perfected (i.e., made to meet all water rights requirements) in the name of the United States.

Federal reserved water rights exist as of the date land was reserved from the public domain but are of undefined quantity until the United States is properly joined in a general adjudication or initiates a court action to protect the right. When properly joined, the United States must claim and defend its reserved rights in a court of competent jurisdiction or through negotiations either associated with the adjudication proceeding or in the development of a federal-state compact. Application of this doctrine requires interpretation of federal water rights case law and congressional intent. As a result, the NPS will seek the counsel of the Office of the Solicitor, and, if necessary, the Department of Justice, when determining entitlement or the elements of quantification for a federal reserved water right.

Riparian water rights are associated with land ownership and the NPS’s entitlement is dependent on contiguity of park land to a body of water. The NPS will seek the counsel of the Office of the Solicitor, when determining entitlement or the elements of quantification for a riparian water right.

Prior appropriation rights are determined by state laws and procedures. The amount, purpose, location and place of use, and priority date associated with appropriative rights are included on the certificate or permit issued by the state. The NPS will be diligent in perfecting prior appropriation rights.

Needs for water in a park include all water necessary to carry out the purposes for which the park was created as defined in the NPS Organic Act and the park's enabling legislation. Needs for water in the foreseeable future will be identified through the NPS planning process including the park's statement for management, general management plan, resource management plan, or water resource management plan.

The NPS will prepare and maintain water rights dockets (files with pertinent entitlement and quantification information) for all water rights at NPS park units. The Water Resources Division will develop and keep guidelines for establishing and maintaining dockets. A master set of dockets will be maintained by the Water Resources Division and a companion set of dockets will be housed in the park.

4. Protecting Water Rights

In 1952, the U.S. Congress enacted the McCarran Amendment (43 USC 666), which consented to the United States becoming a party to state court adjudications relative to priority of water rights. The U.S. Supreme Court decision of March 24, 1971, confirmed that the United States is subject to adjudication proceedings in state courts, both as to reserved rights and acquired rights when the adjudication includes a river system. Therefore, the NPS must file and defend its water rights claims in a McCarran proceeding for each NPS unit located in the basin.

A limited waiver of Sovereign Immunity (McCarran Amendment, 66 Stat. 560, 43 USC 666) gives the consent of the United States to be joined as a defendant in any suit for the general adjudication or administration of water rights. The court has interpreted this consent to apply to water rights based on state water law and on the Doctrine of Federal Reserved Water Rights.

When properly joined, the United States must claim its water rights and offer proof to support this claim. In adjudication proceedings, the NPS will participate by supplying the Department of Justice with technical and other factual evidence as needed to protect claimed water rights.

Where the granting of a new or changed water right may now or in the foreseeable future conflict with NPS reserved, riparian, prior appropriation, or groundwater rights or other water needed for carrying out the purposes of the reservation, a protest will be made to the state agency responsible for water rights, notifying it that the issuance of such water rights is in conflict with those of the United States for NPS purposes. In considering this type of action, the NPS will consult with legal counsel and water-related resource specialists as necessary and consider all information supplied by the applicant. The NPS will, in good faith, work with the applicant and other parties, if any, during the pre-hearing period to negotiate the resolution of issues related to protection of park purposes.

5. Instream and standing (e.g., lakes and ponds) water requirements

Where water rights of the United States for NPS purposes are, or may be, injured by surface or groundwater storage or use, a quantification of instream flows and standing water levels may be necessary. Quantification of these amounts will generally be essential in water rights adjudications. Quantification may also be necessary in the preparation of a response to state or federally mandated environmental studies for actions that affect the environment; for example, construction of impoundments or diversions, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dam licensing and relicensing.

In those instances where federal reserved water rights do not apply or otherwise do not guarantee instream flows or standing water levels, protection may still be possible under state law. Generally, in such cases early quantification is desirable because the degree of protection is directly related to the date of appropriation; the earlier the appropriation the better the protection.

Other opportunities to protect instream flows and standing water levels may be found through conversion of rights under state water law to in-situ uses such as instream flow. Opportunities to accomplish NPS objectives under state water law may also be created through cooperative actions with state agencies.

In Riparian Doctrine states, the need for the quantification of instream flows and natural standing water levels may also arise consequent to water developments or other human-caused alterations of surface or groundwater hydrologic conditions. In these states the "reasonableness" of both the proposal and its effect will be considered by the court. Therefore, quantification should be related to the objectives identified in NPS mandates, management plans, and/or statements for management.

Alterations to surface water flow

Water resources in many NPS units have been affected by human-induced alterations to natural flow conditions in addition to those normally associated with water rights issues. Examples include the influence of cloud seeding, the effects of reservoir releases on recreational activities, the impact of flood releases on endangered species, the alteration of aquatic habitat due to reservoir storage or draw down cycles, and the establishment of a nonnative cold-water fishery downstream from reservoir release sites. In addition, many urban NPS units experience discharge, erosion, and sedimentation patterns that have been altered by increases in stormwater runoff, resulting from continued growth and inadequate stormwater management in the adjacent watersheds.

Alterations to natural flow conditions can be a major concern in aquatic resources management, as these changes often alter aquatic habitat. Issues and impacts relating to the influence of flow alteration on aquatic habitat is addressed in Aquatic Habitat Protection and Management, below. Natural resource managers are strongly encouraged to participate in the preparation and review of other agencies' watershed management plans, stormwater management plans, etc., for areas that may not be located within the park boundary, but that may impact park aquatic resources that are a downstream watershed component.

Groundwater quantity issues and management

As with surface water, groundwater can be a primary resource of the park that supports all other resources and ecosystems. In parks where groundwater sustains lakes, playas, springs, and cavern systems, groundwater is critical to the continued existence of natural systems and associated park values. This may be especially true in arid regions where groundwater is the primary water supply for wildlife and vegetation.

NPS Management Policies limits groundwater withdrawal and consumptive use in a park to the amount that is absolutely necessary for the use and management of the park, and only if necessary studies show that these withdrawals will not significantly alter natural processes and ecosystems. It is especially important that the effects of groundwater withdrawals on park resources such as wetlands and springs be evaluated during these studies. When feasible, and appropriate, groundwater sources will be developed for park water supplies in lieu of or to replace surface water diversions in parks. In addition, return flow resulting from all park water uses is to be returned to the basin of origin.

Groundwater withdrawals and appropriations that occur adjacent to park boundaries can have a significant impact on groundwater levels, as related to well yields and spring flow, and on the natural resources within a park. These impacts may be especially significant in areas adjacent to large agricultural or mining operations where large groundwater withdrawals can lower groundwater levels over a broad area through land subsidence.

Park personnel should maintain an awareness of local groundwater conditions and uses, and, when appropriate, work cooperatively with federal, state, and local agencies in order to protect these resources. In many cases, a well-developed position documenting NPS concerns can influence other entities to adopt a course of action acceptable to all parties involved. Agreements, memoranda of understanding, or possibly legislation are avenues that can be used to attain park objectives.

Water quantity inventory and monitoring

A water quantity inventory, including an assessment of water rights and status, where appropriate is an essential component for aquatic resources management within an NPS unit. The inventory and assessment may vary in scope and detail depending on management's needs, but should conform with guidance presented in Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring in this Reference Manual. In addition, a water quantity inventory and assessment should be an integral part of a park's resource management activities and be identified in a park's resource management plan.

The NPS should cooperate with the U.S. Geological Survey and other federal and state agencies in monitoring surface water available in rivers, streams, and other water bodies, and flow of artesian wells, springs, and water levels in wells. However, in many cases, the park will need to install and operate an appropriate monitoring system to measure water quantities if such issues are of concern. Information regarding the design of adequate water quantity monitoring programs is contained in Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring in this Reference Manual.

Water Resources Planning

Proper management of water resources within national park system units is becoming more complex and challenging as threats to this precious resource increase, both inside and outside park boundaries. In response, the Water Resources Division of the National Park Service provides park units with planning and assessment support necessary for protection and management of water resources and water-dependent environments.

Water resources planning program

More than 75% of the units of the National Park System have expressed concern about water resource issues that potentially degrade park resources. Planning is an essential step in comprehensively understanding the hydrologic environment and addressing the complex water resource issues faced by many of these park units. A Water Resources Division program, initiated in 1991, involves assisting units of the National Park System with their water resources planning needs. This program offers several products, depending on the specific needs of parks. These products include water resource issues overviews, water resources scoping reports, and water resources management plans.

Water resource issues overviews, scoping reports, and management plans are guided by a park’s general management plan and strategic plan, and complement a park’s resources management plan, by expanding on water resources information, objectives, and issues. If water resources constitute only a minor component of a park’s natural resources, and if issues are straightforward with no suspected significant impacts, water resources may be addressed as a component of the resources management plan. However, in many park units, water resources are sufficiently important, and the issues too numerous and/or complex, such that the planning process in the following figure is implemented.

Water resources planning process [To see the chart as a Word document, Click Here.]

Water resources scoping reports and management plans typically pave the way for cooperative efforts between the National Park Service and other stakeholders, including federal, state, and local agencies, non-governmental organizations, and Native Americans. During the development of these documents, emphasis is placed on multi-agency participation and review. This process has produced local and regional endorsement of the National Park Service’s management direction for addressing water resource issues at several park units.

Water resources issues overviews provide a preliminary identification of major water resource issues and management concerns. These overviews are often done to support other, ongoing planning efforts such as the development of general management plans and resources management plans. Typically, water resources issues overviews are quick response documents requiring minimal turn-around time.

Water resources scoping reports typically identify and analyze major water resource issues and management concerns, summarize existing hydrological information, and determine if the National Park Service unit warrants the preparation of a more comprehensive water resources management plan. If a water resources management plan is needed, its cost is estimated and mechanisms for its completion are recommended. Otherwise, water resource management actions, called project statements, are developed to address the major water resource issues and concerns. In certain cases, when already known water resource issues and concerns are complex and/or numerous, a National Park Service unit may default to the development of the more comprehensive water resources management plan. Water resources management plans usually require approximately six to nine months to complete.

Water resources management plans structure and use information about a park unit’s water resources and water-related environments to (1) identify and thoroughly analyze water resource issues and management concerns, (2) provide a detailed description of the hydrologic environment and a summary of existing water resource information and data, (3) assist management in developing and evaluating alternative actions, as appropriate, concerning the issues, and (4) select a preferred course of action. The development of water resources management plans can assist in the generation of a parkwide strategy and ensure that park managers and policy makers have adequate and timely information to protect, use, and enhance water resources. A water resources management plan identifies high-priority research and/or management areas and proposes a conceptual framework for building a comprehensive, integrated, and durable water management program that will position a park to address the issues of the 21st century in a realistic manner. As such, it is a blueprint for the resolution of water resource issues over a five to ten year period.

As with water resource scoping reports, the recommended management actions in a water resources management plan are project statements. Each project statement identifies the water resource problem, provides a detailed explanation (including objectives) of the proposed action needed to address the problem, and develops funding and personnel estimates necessary to accomplish the proposed action. These project statements then become part of the resources management plan. One to two years are required to complete a water resources management plan.

There is no set format for water resources management plans. However, parks facing water resource management issues need to consider the following when planning management actions:

    • Effective managerial solutions to problems concerning water resources will be achieved only with the understanding that changes in environmental conditions are, for the most part, directly linked to socioeconomic patterns and processes, especially land use.
    • Interactive partnerships among water resource scientists, policy makers, and resource managers are essential for developing a comprehensive approach to integrating water sciences with management of water resources.
    • Viewing water problems holistically and integrating research and management into a watershed context links the sciences involved in water research and management.
    • The transfer of scientific information to regional leaders and the public should be done in a manner that will produce an informed and responsive citizenry that is willing and able to provide direct feedback to water-based programs.
    • Proposed recommendations are seemingly connected to issues that are related directly to societal (or ecosystem) needs, namely, restoring and rehabilitating ecosystems, maintaining biodiversity, and understanding the effects of modified hydrologic flow.

The structure of a water resources management plan should suit the needs of a particular park unit. Nonetheless, completed plans, to date, show some similarities. The first section, usually an introduction, provides background information regarding the park unit and the water resource issues, concerns, and needs that instigated preparation of the water resources management plan. In particular, this section provides information on land status and uses of lands adjacent to the park unit, the status of any other ongoing planning activities, and states the objectives and goals concerning use and management of water in the park unit. Laws, regulations, and policies concerning water resources applicable to the park unit may be included in the introduction or considered as a separate section.

Following the introduction is section, called "existing resource conditions," that provides comprehensive, referenced information on the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of water resources for a the park unit. Referenced material provides a valuable source of water resources information that can be used in project design and implementation. The next section, "water resource issues," delineates and discusses in depth those issues that are affecting the water resources of the park unit. The final, major section defines the water resources management program of the park including the proposed action plan. This section includes project statements describing day-to-day operational activities and special projects necessary to address the water resource issues facing the park. These activities and projects may consist of management, monitoring, interpretation, law enforcement, program administration, research, management studies, and mitigation and/or treatment actions.

Public awareness and education

A logical step after completion of a water resources scoping report or a water resources management plan is the transfer of the information to the general public. This process requires active involvement between a park unit’s resource management and interpretive staff. A summary is completed that captures the primary water resource issues and management objectives for the park unit. This informative summary should assist the public in better understanding the management direction of the park unit.

Freshwater Resources Management Table of Contents | RM#77 Table of Contents
update on 02/05/2004  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/rm77/freshwater/waterresources.cfm   I  Email: Contact Us
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