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The SPARROW Surface Water-Quality Model: Theory, Application and User Documentation

U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods
Book 6, Section B, Chapter 3


By G.E. Schwarz, A.B. Hoos, R.B. Alexander, and R.A. Smith

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SPARROW (SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes) is a watershed modeling technique for relating water-quality measurements made at a network of monitoring stations to attributes of the watersheds containing the stations. The core of the model consists of a nonlinear regression equation describing the non-conservative transport of contaminants from point and diffuse sources on land to rivers and through the stream and river network. The model predicts contaminant flux, concentration, and yield in streams and has been used to evaluate alternative hypotheses about the important contaminant sources and watershed properties that control transport over large spatial scales.

This report provides documentation for the SPARROW modeling technique and computer software to guide users in constructing and applying basic SPARROW models. The documentation gives details of the SPARROW software, including the input data and installation requirements, and guidance in the specification, calibration, and application of basic SPARROW models, as well as descriptions of the model output and its interpretation. The documentation is intended for both researchers and water-resource managers with interest in using the results of existing models and developing and applying new SPARROW models.

The documentation of the model is presented in two parts. Part 1 provides a theoretical and practical introduction to SPARROW modeling techniques, which includes a discussion of the objectives, conceptual attributes, and model infrastructure of SPARROW. Part 1 also includes background on the commonly used model specifications and the methods for estimating and evaluating parameters, evaluating model fit, and generating water-quality predictions and measures of uncertainty. Part 2 provides a user’s guide to SPARROW, which includes a discussion of the software architecture and details of the model input requirements and output files, graphs, and maps. The text documentation and computer software are available on the Web at

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