National Park Service

Sonoran Desert I&M Network (SODN)


Streams graphic

Monitoring Briefs

Field Summaries

Protocol Summary
Interactive Discharge Data


Sonoran Desert Network parks contain reaches of some of the major rivers in the American Southwest: the Gila, Santa Cruz, and Verde. These streams and rivers (hereafter streams), and the riparian systems they support, dominate the natural and cultural features of the parks where they occur. However, the condition of rivers within each park unit is greatly influenced by drivers and stressors occurring over broad watersheds and upstream segments located well beyond park boundaries. Monitoring the ecological and hydrologic condition of these rivers from multiple perspectives in an integrated fashion is key to understanding and managing these critical habitats.

Parks Monitored

Monitoring Objectives

  1. Water Quantity: Determine status and measure trend on annual, seasonal and monthly stream discharge means and totals; and flood/low flow magnitude and frequency.
  2. Channel Morphology: Determine the status of stream channel habitat and measure trends in channel cross-section area, channel slope, sinuosity and stream flow continuity.
  3. Riparian Vegetation: Measure trend in common riparian vegetation abundance (including non-native species), community structure and recruitment.
  4. Water Quality: Determine status, seasonal and annual trends in core water quality parameters, and selected inorganic, nutrient, metal parameters; and microbiological, toxins, and suspended solids.
  5. Macroinvertebrates: Determine status of biological indices and trends in macroinvertebrate taxa abundance, richness and derived metrics.
  6. Fish: Determine status and measure trends in native and non-native fish abundance and frequency.

Potential Measures

  1. Channel morphology: Channel width × depth ratio; cross-sectional area, sinuosity, channel slope, and sediment composition.
  2. Riparian plant communities: Plant alliance type and distribution; community similarity measures over time and space.
  3. Riparian plant species and lifeforms: % vegetative cover for common (≥10% absolute cover) perennial plants and perennial plant lifeforms; % frequency of uncommon (≥10% absolute cover) perennial plants and annual plant lifeforms.
  4. Benthic macroinvertebrates: Relative abundance by family and/or functional group; integrated biological index (IBI); Observed Expected metrics (O/E).
  5. Stream discharge: Stream flow in cubic feet per second (cfs) and acre feet per year (afy).
  6. Core water quality parameters: Water temperature (°C), dissolved oxygen (mg/L water), instantaneous flow (cfs), specific conductance (microSiemens per cm °C), pH (su), turbidity (NTU).
  7. Alkalinity: CaCO3 (mg/L water)
  8. Primary nutrients: Concentrations of total N and total P (mg/L).
  9. Biological condition: Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) in mg/L; E. coli in most probable number of colony-forming units /100ml(MPN/100ml).
  10. Metals: Concentrations of metals (mg/L) that are ecologically significant or possibly impact human health.

Management Applications

Perennial streams are important focal resources for the parks where they occur. Managers can use monitoring information to guide park management actions and address proximate issues that are occurring within park boundaries. Stream monitoring information also provides an index of overall watershed condition, providing park managers with information to effectively address broad-scale issues with adjacent land owners and other land management and regulatory agencies. Finally, stream conditions provide insights into broader landscape conditions due to the critical ecological services these systems support over surrounding terrestrial landscapes-services that are greatly disproportionate to the relatively meager area of these riparian corridors.

Protocol Status

This protocol is currently under development. Monitoring has begun. This effort is part of a collaboration between SODN and the Southern Plains Network.

Status & Trends

There is insufficient temporal information for trend determination at this time.

Project Cooperators

Chihuahuan Desert Network
Southern Plains Network

Project Contact

Evan Gwilliam, SODN Aquatic Ecologist

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Last Updated: January 29, 2014 Contact Webmaster