National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program

U.S. Geological Survey
Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4052

Revised Methods for Characterizing Stream Habitat in the National Water-Quality Assessment Program

By Faith A. Fitzpatrick, Ian R. Waite, Patricia J. D'Arconte, Michael R. Meador, Molly A. Maupin, and Martin E. Gurtz

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Stream habitat is characterized in the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program as part of an integrated physical, chemical, and biological assessment of the Nation's water quality. The goal of stream habitat characterization is to relate habitat to other physical, chemical, and biological factors that describe water-quality conditions. To accomplish this goal, environmental settings are described at sites selected for water-quality assessment. In addition, spatial and temporal patterns in habitat are examined at local, regional, and national scales.

This habitat protocol contains updated methods for evaluating habitat in NAWQA Study Units. Revisions are based on lessons learned after 6 years of applying the original NAWQA habitat protocol to NAWQA Study Unit ecological surveys. Similar to the original protocol, these revised methods for evaluating stream habitat are based on a spatially hierarchical framework that incorporates habitat data at basin, segment, reach, and microhabitat scales. This framework provides a basis for national consistency in collection techniques while allowing flexibility in habitat assessment within individual Study Units. Procedures are described for collecting habitat data at basin and segment scales; these procedures include use of geographic information system data bases, topographic maps, and aerial photographs. Data collected at the reach scale include channel, bank, and riparian characteristics.

Table of Contents

Summary of revisions to original protocol
Habitat-sampling design
Conceptual framework for characterizing stream habitat
Relevance and application to other habitat-assessment techniques
Selection of sampling sites
Sampling strategy for fixed and synoptic sites
Preferred units of measure
Basin characterization
Description and list of basin characteristics
Segment characterization
Description and list of segment characteristics
Reach characterization
Selection of a reach
Collection of general reach data and placement of transects
Identification of banks and bankfull stage
   Empirical relations for identifying bankfull stage
   Field indicators of bankfull stage
Collection of transect data
Additional optional measurements
   Surveys of channel cross sections
   Riparian-vegetation characterization
   Substrate characterization
Description and list of reach-scale habitat characteristics
   General reach information
   Transect information
Equipment list
Data management
Habitat data dictionary
Data analysis
Data-application examples
Willamette Basin
Western Lake Michigan Drainages
   Synoptic study
   Basic fixed sites
References cited
Field forms

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For further information about this report, contact the National Water-Quality Assessment Program office.

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