Key Contacts

Keith Robinson
Hampshire-Vermont Water Science Center Director
U.S. Geologic Survey
603-226-7807 (office)

Fred Dieffenbach
Environmental Monitoring Coordinator
Northeast Temperate Network / Appalachian NST
802-457-3368 ext. 36
802-457-3405 (fax)
3405 (fax)

Water Resources Inventory

Little Rock Pond along the Appalachian Trail.
Little Rock Pond along the Appalachian Trail.
[Photo: U.S. National Park Service]

Water resources along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) include lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, seeps, springs, wells, and wetlands. The form, structure, and occurrence of these water resources varies considerably as their characteristics and occurrence depend on the geology, climate, and the terrestrial ecological systems found in any particular area. Water resources serve many uses along the A.T., such as a source of drinking water for hikers, visitors, and wildlife, providing recreational, scenic and esthetic value, habitat for plants and animals, and a source of water for downstream uses (such as public water supplies, fisheries, hydropower generation).

The A.T. crosses about 1,700 streams and 100 rivers from Georgia to Maine. The great majority of these crossings are intermittent (zero order), first and second order streams (having a width of less than 5 meters) (source M. Robinson, ATC, 2006). These lower order streams are representative of the forested mountainous and higher elevation terrain that characterizes most of the A.T. region. It is the zero, first and second order streams that are of most concern for monitoring and management (we will term these "high elevation tributaries"). Higher order streams and rivers are typically found at lower elevations and bottom lands and are reflective of larger drainage basins and multiple contributing land uses.

There are 75 lakes and ponds along the A.T. (M. Robinson, ATC, 2006). These lakes and ponds (collectively called ponds) are a combination of natural and man-made water bodies; natural ponds are thought to be more common from New Jersey northward on the Trail. These natural ponds tend to be small, in high elevation catchments, or in lowlands between ridges and mountains. Ponds often serve as important recreational areas, whether for swimming, a water supply source, or the site of camping/shelters for overnight usage. The natural ponds provide habitat frequented by wildlife such as mink, bear, and moose; and larger ponds also may serve as loon nesting sites. Human-made ponds are found along the length of the A.T. and were generally constructed for water supply, agricultural, and hydropower purposes.

The objective of this Level 1 inventory is to characterize the general water-quality conditions for high-elevation tributaries and natural ponds along and near to the A.T., from Georgia to Maine. This inventory will be used to determine the scope and spatial coverage of existing water-quality data. Statistical summaries of this data will be used to describe the current chemistry and quality of the surface-water resources, as well as, how the variability in the data may be due to natural and anthropogenic factors. Additionally, this compilation and preliminary analysis will provide baseline information that will enable A.T. resource managers to develop a sampling plan that addresses data gaps and identifies a network of key water bodies for future monitoring. Specific objectives include:

  • Compile existing datasets
  • Determine the spatial coverage of water-quality data and which data is appropriate for the resource characterization
  • Provide an analysis of selected constituents which describe current water-quality conditions and possibly changes in water-quality
  • Determine natural and anthropogenic factors that can be used to describe the observed variability in water-quality
  • conditions along the A.T.
  • Design and conduct a limited water-quality sampling program to fill selective data gaps
  • Write a U.S. Geological Survey series report describing the results of the Level 1 inventory
  • Methods
    The approach for conducting the A.T. Level 1 water-quality inventory will consist of three main tasks:

  • Compile and assess existing water-quality data along the A.T. and adjacent watersheds
  • Design and conduct a limited water-quality monitoring effort to fill important data gaps
  • Summarize results of the study in a U.S. Geological Survey report
  • Each task is described in more detail below.

    Relevance and Benefits
    The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) serves as the principal Federal provider of hydrologic data, theory, research, and new technology for the Nation. To accomplish this role, the USGS has broad goals for hydrologic work. The goals that are relevant to the A.T. Level 1 inventory include advancing knowledge of:

  • Regional hydrologic systems
  • Field or analytical methodology
  • Hydrologic processes
  • This investigation is designed to enhance the ability of the National Park Service (NPS) to manage park resources at both a local and regional level by characterizing regional water-quality conditions. The information from the study also could serve as the basis for future inventory and monitoring (I&M) and vital signs assessments for water resources. Specifically, it will provide the information necessary for the NPS to define vital signs for water resource management along the A.T.

    The USGS and NPS will gain a valuable understanding of the current water-quality condition of high-elevation zero to second order streams along the East coast. Information gained from this study will likely be transferable, and will enhance future work describing water quality in chemically immature headwaters.

    Characterization of the current condition of high elevation headwaters, along such a geographic extent as the A.T. encompasses, is critical in advancing science which is targeted at investigating climate change on ecosystems and other natural and anthropogenically-driven influences on water resources. Finally, this study would have direct relevance to potential future water resource monitoring activities associated with the A.T. MEGA-transect monitoring program.

    The USGS will apprise the NPS of the progress of the study on both a quarterly and as needed basis. NPS staff will be invited to participate in quarterly reviews of study progress. Presentations and other more formal study updates would also be conducted as needed by the NPS.

    In the final year of the study, a USGS-series report will be published and provided to the A.T. park superintendent, the NPS Water Resources Division, and the A.T. I&M coordinator. The report will contain a brief description of the objectives of the inventory; the inventory process; a map showing the location of inventoried and assessed sites; tables showing results of historic data and data collected in this study; and interpretation of this data.

    In addition, USGS will provide the NPS a DVD containing digital materials documenting the water quality inventory results as described in the Data Management and Archiving section. New water quality data collected in Task 2 will be entered and stored in the USGS National Water Information System NWIS) computer database. The NWIS has extensive documentation, data retrieval, and analysis capabilities.

    Web Resources for Water Resources Inventory
    Showing 3 Results
    Expand2010-07-19 Appalachian Trail Environmental Monitoring Newsletter (PDF, 3 pp., 56 KB)
    ExpandAppalachian National Scenic Trail Resource Management Plan: Chapter II: Present Resource Status (PDF, 77 pp., 4 MB)
    ExpandAppalachian Trail: Level-1 Water Resources Inventory
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