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Air, soil, and water resources and quality

Glacier Lakes Ecosystem Experiment Site
Glacier Lakes Ecosystem Experiment Site


Ecosystems and watersheds

Air, soil, and water 

System drivers

Baseline carbon

Plants and animals

Socioeconomic conditions
Ecosystem services
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Tribal importance
Heritage areas
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Designated areas

Air, soil, and water resources and quality provide the foundation for ecosystems and ecosystem services. These publications and tools include valuable information in these areas, including spatial modeling tools and publications specific to certain regions. They can be used as a starting point in planning assessment, and should be supplemented by information specific to the individual planning unit.

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USDA Forest Service national protocols for sampling air pollutionsensitive waters

Applicability: While especially useful for establishing a monitoring program, this resource is an extensive book that outlines procedures for keeping stock of both air and water quality through water sampling. It includes indicators, methods, and training information.

Authors: Sullivan, T.J., ed.

Publication Number: GTR-278

Year: 2012

Summary: The first step in designing a surface water sampling program is identifying one or more problems or questions that require information on water quality. Common water quality problems include nutrient enrichment (from a variety of causes), effects of atmospheric deposition (acidification, eutrophication, toxicity), and effects of major disturbances such as fire or pest infestations. Once the problems or questions have been clearly defined, a sampling program can be designed that addresses where to sample, what to measure, and when and how to conduct the sampling. The selection of measurements should be tailored to specific study objectives and to the study design, which guides the specifics of field, laboratory, and data analysis protocols.

Scope / Scale: Procedural document.


U.S. Forest Service Region 1 Lake Chemistry, NADP, and IMPROVE air quality data analysis

Applicability: Very data rich air quality information for Region 1. Not applicable outside of the region except as a procedural document.

Authors: Grenon, Jill; Story, Mark

Publication Number: GTR-230

Year: 2009

Summary: This report was developed to address the need for comprehensive analysis of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Region 1 air quality monitoring data. The monitoring data includes Phase 3 (long-term data) lakes, National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), and Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE). Annual and seasonal data for the periods of record were evaluated for trends using non-parametric (SAS) protocols. The most significant trends were the consistent decrease in SO4 2– and increase in NH4 + at the NADP sites. Standard visual Range increased and extinction decreased at all the IMPROVE sites. Annual visibility was reduced during years of heavy wildland fire. In conclusion, considerations were listed regarding current and future monitoring and National Forest air quality protection including lake sampling protocols, and NADP and IMPROVE site continuation.

Scope / Scale: Region 1 specific



Watershed Condition Framework

Applicability: Builds off of the 12 watershed condition indicators. The tool includes regional maps, an interactive online map, and GIS data. Watersheds are shown visually as functioning properly, at risk, or impaired. The interactive map can also include a layer with forest boundaries or be searched by forest name, making it planning unit-level relevant. Once a watershed is selected, the tool will give an overview of the 12 indicators in that area. Data are also useful in assessment area 1.

Summary: Watershed condition classification was completed on National Forest System lands in May of 2011. During the summer and fall of 2011, priority watersheds were identified and work began on Watershed Restoration Action Plans. Watershed Restoration Action Plans are programmatic documents in which the Forest Service describes existing resource conditions and identifies possible management actions that could be taken to move the Agency towards a desired future condition. If the Forest Service determines that it wants to move forward with any of these possible actions, the proposed actions will be subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements at the time the projects are proposed. NEPA may have already been completed or may be underway on some of the projects described in the Action Plans.

The results of the Forest Service Watershed Condition Framework planning work are available through a map viewer website where users can view the priority watersheds, read about why the watershed was selected, download the Watershed Restoration Action Plans and learn about other important planning items, including estimated costs and restoration partners. Each watershed on the map also contains information on the overall watershed condition rating and the individual rating of its 12 watershed condition indicators.

Scope / Scale: Planning unit; 12-digit HUC


USGS Science in your Watershed

Applicability: User-friendly watershed information clearinghouse. Allows you to click down from national to regional to local watersheds and then presents you with a menu of "additional information" for that watershed in a series of links. Includes much of the same information as the USGS watershed mapping site, but presented in a different format. The tool also includes links to relevant EPA information for the watershed once it has been selected.

Summary: The purpose of this site is to help you find scientific information organized on a watershed basis. This information, coupled with observations and measurements made by the watershed groups, provides a powerful foundation for characterizing, assessing, analyzing, and maintaining the status and health of a watershed. Discussions with watershed groups across the country resulted in this web site. This web site provides access to: Locate Your Watershed - use the mapping interface to locate your watershed and link to additional information from your watershed. Information Discovery - find projects, publications, and databases related to your watershed. Data Integration - learn more about how you can use scientific data to understand your watershed

Scope / Scale: 8-digit HUC


USGS Watershed maps

Applicability: Wide range of maps and data indicating both current conditions and long-term trends for water and watersheds from USGS. This tool is especially useful for stream flow information.

Summary: Downloadable maps and data sets including:

  • Annual Water Data Reports - Individual site data for a particular year, beginning in 2006.

  • National Water Information System (NWIS) USGS Water Data for the Nation: Water-resources data collected at approximately 1.5 million sites in all U.S. States and Territories. Primary categories are Real-time Data, Site Information, Surface Water, Groundwater and Water Quality.

  • National Hydrography Dataset - Detailed spatial data with information about surface-water features and their upstream or downstream relationships.

  • Water data discovery - Summary of water-data access tools organized by time: water now, water then, and water tomorrow.

  • Spatial data - Spatial data and metadata created for water assessment and research projects.

  • Water-use maps and data - Categories of water use in the United States in 2000, 1995, and 1990, by State, with data available by County.

Scope / Scale: Variable HUC levels.


Vulnerability of U.S. water supply to shortage: a technical document supporting the Forest Service 2010 RPA Assessment

Applicability: This technical document from the RPA assessment includes both information on water supply and projections for demand using the RPA scenarios. It does a variability analysis for water shortages and presents information in national spatial models.

Authors: Foti, Romano; Ramirez, Jorge A.; Brown, Thomas C.

Publication Number: GTR-295

Year: 2012

Summary: Comparison of projected future water demand and supply across the conterminous United States indicates that, due to improving efficiency in water use, expected increases in population and economic activity do not by themselves pose a serious threat of large-scale water shortages. However, climate change can increase water demand and decrease water supply to the extent that, barring major adaptation efforts, substantial future water shortages are likely, especially in the larger Southwest. Because further global temperature increases are probably unavoidable, adaptation will be essential in the areas of greatest increase in projected probability of shortage.

Scope / Scale: National trends and data at county levels.



Applicability: USFS group which has developed a variety of publications and software tools, including BAGS, WinXSPRO, FishXing, and Aquarius. The publications include information about trends and projections, including climate impacts. The modeling tools can provide information regarding sediment, hydrology, and competing uses for water. Some information has not been updated since 2007 or 2008.

Summary: The Stream Systems Technology Center, or "STREAM TEAM " is a national technical center chartered to improve knowledge of stream systems and watershed hydrology, develop operational tools and technology, provide training and technical support, and identify research needs for the purpose of coordinating development of needed technology to secure favorable conditions of water flows. The Stream Systems Technology Center is part of the Washington Office Watershed, Fisheries, and Wildlife Staff.

Scope / Scale: Variable depending on programs and publications



Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA)

Applicability: Data produced by Natural Resource Conservation Service akin to the Resource Planning Act. It includes a large amount of information regarding soil.

Summary: The Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA) authorizes USDA to report on the condition of natural resources, and to analyze conservation programs and opportunities. This site supports the RCA by providing data from a variety of sources, including data on the status and trends of natural resources, conservation efforts (funding and conservation practices applied), and the agricultural sector. Data reports can be viewed and downloaded using the 4 easy steps below.

Scope / Scale: Variable depending on information sought.


NRCS Web Soil Survey

Applicability: Users can narrow by state and then by National Forest. Earlier sites (i.e., the NRCS Soil Data Mart) are being phased out. You can also access archived soil surveys through this tool.

Summary: Web Soil Survey (WSS) provides soil data and information produced by the National Cooperative Soil Survey. It is operated by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides access to the largest natural resource information system in the world. NRCS has soil maps and data available online for more than 95 percent of the nation's counties and anticipates having 100 percent in the near future. The site is updated and maintained online as the single authoritative source of soil survey information.

Scope / Scale: Variable depending on information sought.


Airshed - A geographic area that, because of topography, meteorology, and, or, climate, is frequently affected by the same air mass. (From Forest Service Handbook draft directives)

Critical load - The concentration of air pollution or total deposition of pollutants above which specific deleterious effects may occur. (From Forest Service Handbook draft directives)

**Except where noted, definitions are taken from §219.19 "Definitions" of the 2012 Planning Rule.