National Park Service

Appalachian Highlands Network (APHN)

Water Quality Monitoring

Water quality sampling at Rock Creek (OBRI)
Water quality sampling at Rock Creek (OBRI)

Resource Brief: Water Quality Monitoring in APHN

There are currently no other documents or reports pertaining to this topic.

The monitoring protocol and procedures for this topic are currently under development.

For more information contact: Jim Hughes

Affected Parks

  • Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (BISO)
  • Blue Ridge Parkway (BLRI)
  • Obed Wild & Scenic River (OBRI)

Importance / Issues

The Big South Fork NRRA (BISO) and the Obed WSR (OBRI) each occupy the downstream portions of relatively large drainages; consequently, the health of aquatic systems in these parks is largely dependent on land use activities upstream of park boundaries. The Big South Fork lies within a predominately rural region, the economy of which has historically been closely linked with industries of resource extraction that adversely affect land and water resources in the absence of effective environmental controls. The New River, a major tributary to the Big South Fork, is the most heavily mined watershed in the Tennessee coal field, and has been subject to escalated timbering and oil and gas development in recent years. Acidic drainage and erosion from mined lands, along with contaminants associated with logging and oil and gas extraction, are a continuing concern in the New River drainage and elsewhere in the Big South Fork watershed.

Water resources at the Obed WSR have also been affected by extractive industries, albeit at a much lower intensity than at the Big South Fork. In recent years, the traditionally rural character within portions of the Obsed watershed has been supplanted by municipal and suburban population growth and associated development of retirement communities and golf resorts, primarily along the I-40 highway corridor near Crossville. Proposed improvements to rural highways are likely to promote additional population growth and development in traditionally rural areas, both at the Obedand in adjacent high quality streams that are western tributaries of the Big South Fork. Increased municipal and industrial water demand and wastewater discharge, in conjunction with anticipated demand for tributary impoundment at residential developments and for agriculture, are potentially significant stressors to OBRI and BISO water resources in the future, especially during seasons of poorly sustained streamflow.

The Blue Ridge Parkway (BLRI), because of the linear park corridor that closely follows the crest of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, represents a different challenge. Parkway resource managers can more readily control headwater land use activities in much of the park, but external water resource stressors do exist where streams enter the park corridor from outside park boundaries and through acidic deposition in the highlands. BLRI water resources are diverse, and include high elevation seeps and springs, upland wetlands, and managed coldwater fisheries in larger Parkway tracts.

Under undisturbed conditions, water chemistry in Appalachian Highlands Network (APHN) parks ranges from extremely dilute, soft water in the headwater drainages of the Blue Ridge and Cumberland Plateau to moderately soft water in the larger streams of the Cumberland Plateau. Surface waters of all network parks exhibit moderately acidic to circumneutral pH and are typically poorly buffered, except when influenced by limestone where larger streams have breached geologic contacts. This lack of buffering capacity renders waters in APHN parks highly susceptible to degradation by acidic input, and park waters have been adversely affected by acid precipitation in the Blue Ridge highlands and by acid mine drainage on the Cumberland Plateau.

Monitoring Objectives

Specific objectives are to:

  1. Determine long-term trends in seasonal and annual concentrations of bacteria, nutrients, sediment, selected trace metals, and physical parameters in streams, rivers and wetlands within BISO, BLRI and OBR.
  2. Improve our understanding of the relationships among water quality, water quantity, and park aquatic resources, including Network Vital Signs (freshwater mussels, rare fish, cobblebar communities, and aquatic macroinvertebrates).


Appalachian Highlands Network staff will conduct field water quality and laboratory bacteriological analyses in-house. Laboratory support will be provided through agreements with the Colorado State University Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado and with the USGS Sediment Lab in Louisville, Kentucky for a suite of analytical constituents relevant to the monitoring objectives of all three parks. Water quality parameters have been selected to reflect potential impacts associated with major threats, including oil and gas extraction (BISO, OBRI), coal mining (BISO, OBRI), acid deposition (BLRI), agricultural development, industrial pollution, and sewage effluent (all parks). Analytical results will also provide a basis for characterizing pristine waters in the parks.

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Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster