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Watershed Research in the U.S. Geological Survey 5 Conclusions and Recommendations Based on its reviews and deliberations, and as developed in the previous chapters, the Committee on U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Research offers the following conclusions and corresponding recommendations that should contribute to improved and more effective watershed research activity by the USGS. The conclusions and recommendations are intended to help shape the agency's overall framework for activity in this area and thus do not represent an in-depth critique of all relevant activities; they are intended to be of strategic guidance. WATERSHED RESEARCH PROGRAM INGREDIENTS Conclusion The ingredients of an effective watershed research effort within the USGS are (1) a data collection program for a hierarchy of basins of various sizes; (2) several intensively studied, small experimental watersheds that are run to support efforts in major program areas by providing quantitative information on processes; and (3) an active modeling program to bring process understanding to the interpretation of monitoring results and to allow extrapolation of small-watershed results to larger basins. To be effective, all of the ingredients must be integrated within a coordinated overall effort. Recommendation 1.1 The USGS should remain active in each of the areas the ''ingredients" needed for an effective watershed program. The USGS should ensure that individual efforts are integrated and that proper coordination is achieved. This recommendation echoes some of those made by an internal USGS committee, which recognized that improved technical coordination and closer linkages among watershed monitoring and research programs were needed (USGS, 1992). Issues that arise in implementing a
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Watershed Research in the U.S. Geological Survey watershed research program parallel many of the issues central to the USGS National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program. For the water quality assessment mission supported by the watershed research program, there is particularly large overlap with NAWQA. The USGS should directly address programmatic linkages between watershed research and NAWQA. The newly created Biological Resources Division (BRD) has the potential to enhance the ecological assessment activities of the USGS. Work of the BRD should be integrated into the watershed activities of Water Resources Division as appropriate. Recommendation 1.2 The USGS should make it a high priority to develop research watersheds in coordination with other federal agencies, especially the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and the Forest Service (FS). In addition, strong links should be maintained and expanded to National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research sites and existing ARS and FS watersheds. The USGS can add significantly to the current resources in place at ARS and FS research sites. Strong consideration should also be given to inclusion of staff from other agencies at existing USGS watersheds. In this regard the USGS should examine its incentives structure and consider creating or enhancing staff rewards for collaborative interagency efforts. Recommendation 1.3 Research watersheds should be developed with the intention of maintaining facilities for at least 10 years. Comprehensive observations relative to the range of assessment problems undertaken by the USGS should be made. Research watersheds ideally should represent a broad range of physical, chemical, and biological processes. Strong efforts should be made to undertake work in problem-oriented research watersheds, where specific local assessment questions can be addressed. Some research watersheds should focus on ground water, and should recognize that ground water and surface water basins do not necessarily coincide, particularly in (but not limited to) areas of karst features and topography. Recommendation 1.4 USGS scientists have developed numerous models in ground water hydrology and geochemistry that are used by research investigators and field practitioners throughout the world. In the area of watershed science, USGS modeling efforts have not been similarly at the forefront. To be able to achieve a high level of success in the areas suggested by the committee, the USGS will have to strengthen its modeling efforts. The agency will have to develop new models that will be adaptable to solving problems beyond those typically addressed in small research
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Watershed Research in the U.S. Geological Survey watersheds and will have to invest in refining the models in application in programs such as NAWQA and cooperative grants. ADDRESSING THE ISSUES OF LARGER WATERSHEDS Conclusion There is a need to strengthen research related to large watersheds. Recommendation 2.1 The USGS should organize and coordinate its efforts in several programs, notably the National Research Program, NAWQA, and the District Cooperative programs. It is critical that links be forged among the individual programs so that important issues that arise regarding large watersheds can be addressed effectively. The overall goal should be to build an integrated interdisciplinary program on large watersheds that focuses on assessing and understanding trends in land use, geological, hydrologic, biological, and demographic changes. This strategy will put the USGS in the position argued to be important in a recent report by the American Geological Institute (1996)—"to identify where tomorrow's hot spots will be and use this information to defuse them before they heat up." The USGS also must ensure that appropriate links are made with other agencies (see Recommendation 1.2). Several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Reclamation, Corps of Engineers, and the National Weather Service have strong interests in work on large watersheds and should be valuable partners for the USGS. Partnerships with other agencies also may be very useful (e.g., see the tabulation in the report by AGI, 1996). Recommendation 2.2 The level of effort in the modeling aspects of watershed activities may have to be increased substantially. Testing and verifying models across a range of scales should be a primary goal of the overall effort. (See also Recommendation 1.4.) INCREASED ATTENTION TO THE URBAN SETTING Conclusion A key omission from the collection of research watersheds operated by the USGS and other federal agencies is representation from urban watersheds. Detailed long-term studies of the impact of urbanization on hydrology and water quality have not been carried out to the same degree as have studies on agricultural and forested watersheds.
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Watershed Research in the U.S. Geological Survey Recommendation 3.1 The USGS should select and monitor several urban and urbanizing watersheds. (Current work in NAWQA may satisfy this recommendation in part.) Monitoring should include water quantity and quality parameters and channel morphology. The assessment of urban watersheds should include the spatial and temporal impacts of hydrometeorological events, with emphasis on riverine floods. Principal sources of rainfall-related water quality problems in urban watersheds are combined-and sanitary-sewer overflows, storm water discharges, and nonpoint sources. These events can create perplexing adverse impacts on receiving waters. Recommendation 3.2 A strong modeling component must be part of the agency's urban hydrology work. The USGS should support the development, testing, and verification of models for urban hydrology. RESTORATION OF AQUATIC ECOSYSTEMS Conclusion There is a clear need for research on the evaluation of effects of restoration of aquatic ecosystems on watersheds. Recommendation 4.1 The USGS has taken an active role in providing technical assessments of alternatives in some areas where whole-watershed restoration efforts are under way (See the Redwood River example in Box 4.3). As this role expands, the USGS should commit to improving the science base supporting assessment protocols for watershed-scale restoration. The USGS should advance the science of whole-watershed restoration in four critical areas (1) improvements in the ability to understand relationships among watershed hydrology, water quality, and habitat; (2) helping better understand conditions prior to disturbance; (3) relating the consequences of restoring damaged sites to watershed scale outcomes; and (4) translating knowledge gained from data collection and experimental watershed studies into models that can be used to evaluate restoration actions. The new capabilities brought to the agency by the BRD should be very helpful in the work on watershed restoration. NEW ATTENTION TO SEDIMENT TRANSPORT Conclusion Given that toxic chemicals are often transported in association with sediments and that stream-channel erosion remains an unresolved problem in watersheds affected by urban and agricultural
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Watershed Research in the U.S. Geological Survey development, there is a need for research to understand sediment budgets and the processes by which sediments are removed from watersheds. Recommendation 5.1 The USGS should develop an integrated effort on sediment transport. This effort should include a measurement program for a hierarchy of basins around the United States, nested so as to address issues of scaling from small watersheds to large watersheds. The measurement program should be supplemented with a modeling effort to interpret the measurements and to provide the framework for scaling process understanding from small to large watersheds. Special consideration should be given to urban watersheds where improved knowledge of sediment budgets may be of critical importance in understanding the effects of development on water quality and channel stability. INVOLVEMENT OF STUDENTS IN WATERSHED RESEARCH Conclusion The USGS, along with many agencies concerned with maintaining the integrity of the nation's water resources, will require a cadre of professionals educated in appropriate fields. Recommendation 6.1 The USGS should engage students in work on watershed activities. The agency should develop and encourage active collaborative efforts with the university community, the Water Resources Institutes, and the 40 cooperative units of the BRD. One specific goal should be to employ students to work on USGS projects that would contribute to both the USGS project and the thesis or dissertation work of the student.
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