USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Research Topics Water & Watersheds

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Maintaining healthy watersheds is a top priority

Boulders and crystal clear water at the shore of Lake Tahoe in the foreground, with conifer trees, a rocky slope, and clear blue sky in the background

Water is the single most important commodity produced from California's forests. In addition to providing irrigation and power, and serving domestic and industrial uses, water provides habitat for commercial and sport fishery and the basis for a multimillion-dollar recreation industry.

One of the original legislative mandates of the Forest Service is the maintenance of water quality. Long-term maintenance of water quality requires healthy forests, and certain land management activities may adversely affect water quality.

An important role of station scientists is to consider cumulative effects resulting from such activities and to provide a level of understanding from which sound land management and restoration decisions can be made.


Caspar Creek Watershed Study: For the past 39 years, researchers have been studying the nature of hydrologic, erosion, and sedimentation impacts of logging operations on northern California watersheds. The Caspar Creek Experimental Watershed Study, located on the Jackson Demonstration State Forest near Fort Bragg, California, is a cooperative venture of the Redwood Sciences Laboratory and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that has been operating continuously since 1962.

Kings River Experimental Watershed: Characteristics of streams and rivers serve as integrators of broader environmental conditions because they reflect the conditions of the surrounding landscape (Hunsaker and Levine, 1995; Naiman and Bilby, 1998). Activities within a watershed, whether natural or anthropogenic, influence the most basic aspects of the hydrologic cycle. Vegetation absorbs and transpires water to the atmosphere; roads channelize water to streams; wildfire and logging decrease soil permeability; and dams alter the timing, frequency, and intensity of peak flows. All of these alterations directly impact habitat, trophic structure, and species demography, as well as physical and chemical processes.

Watershed decision support tool for managing invasive species on Hawai‘i Island: This decision support tool for the windward coast of Hawai‘i Island prioritizes catchments for invasive plant removal and native forest protection from new introductions. This web application allows users to view mapped data used in the modeling and to directly tailor the decision model based on their conservation goals.

Turbidity Threshold Sampling Study: Turbidity threshold sampling is an automated procedure for measuring turbidity and sampling suspended sediment. The data logger program employs turbidity to govern sample collection during each transport event. The Turbidity Threshold Sampling method is currently operating at 30 gaging sites in northern California, and at two sites in Arizona.

Fine Sediment in Pools: V* is a measure of the supply of excess fine sediment (sand and fine gravel) in gravel bed channels. The method was developed in 1990 as part of our work on the effects of sediment on channel form.