Drought and Ecological Flows

Science Center Objects

As part of the USGS Fisheries program, ecological flows, or the relationships between quality, quantity, and timing of water flows and ecological response of aquatic biota and ecosystems; and related ecosystem services are being investigated. 

Many regions of the United States have recently experienced extreme droughts, fueled by prolonged periods of reduced precipitation and exceptionally warm temperatures. As temperatures warm, the frequency, severity, extent, and duration of droughts are expected to increase across North America, affecting both humans and natural ecosystems. To better manage and improve the resilience of our Nation’s communities and ecosystems in the face of drought, the USGS recently developed a USGS Integrated Drought Science Plan that calls for coordinated and integrated approaches to drought science and outlines a new path towards understanding drought impacts on society and ecosystems and advancing critical information necessary for decision-makers to take action in the coming decades. Specifically, the USGS Integrated Drought Science Plan 

seeks to improve understanding of drought processes and impacts on human and natural systems through coordinated and multidisciplinary data collection, synthesis, analysis, and predictions generated from Mission Areas and a variety of partnerships.

Ecohydrological Research and Monitoring Network

Ecohydrological Research and Monitoring Network as outlined in the USGS Integrated Drought Science Plan.

The long-term goal is to provide support to stakeholders in need of new tools for enhancing drought resilience and adaptation. The USGS Integrated Drought Science Plan includes a step-wise approach to enable improved knowledge transfer and facilitate USGS response to specific actions identified in the Long-Term Drought Resilience Federal Action Plan, through: 

  1. Assessing key data and platforms,
  2. Strengthening observations across space and time,
  3. Synthesizing datasets and models,
  4. Forecasting vulnerable and resilient systems, and
  5. Delivering decision tools and services.

​USGS scientists across Mission Areas have launched an initial-phase implementation strategy to advance the USGS Integrated Drought Science Plan across the United States. ​Scientists are developing and applying ​novel monitoring networks to evaluate and model ecohydrology — the variability of water availability and the effects of streamflow and stream temperature change on aquatic ecosystem dynamics — throughout landscapes, from headwater streams to larger rivers and lakes. This effort requires

  • collecting ecohydrologic data to describe spatial and temporal variation in headwater stream hydrology,
  • identifying key drivers influencing the duration and magnitude of biologically important streamflow events, and
  • advancing our understanding of how hydrologic and thermal variation affects aquatic species and ecosystems.

These enhanced networks will aid in quantifying how climatic variation influences ecological processes across multiple biological (individuals to entire communities) and spatial scales (single streams to entire watersheds). Our efforts will contribute to technological advances for future monitoring, modeling, and ecosystems assessments of our Nation’s water resources​.


Learn more about our research by visiting the web pages below.


USGS Drought Website

Drought poses a serious threat to the resilience of communities and ecosystems in the U.S. USGS has developed a new coordinated and integrated drought science strategy that represents a new path forward towards understanding the complexity of drought issues, their impact on human and natural systems, and the opportunities to inform policy and decision-making for adaptation and mitigation.


Freshwater Mussel Physiology

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

Researchers at Leetown Science Center are evaluating how different species of mussels respond both physiologically and behaviorally to a variety of key environmental stressors (e.g. drought, temperature, stream flow). 


WaterSMART: Improving Tools for Assessing and Forecasting Ecological Responses to Hydrologic Alteration

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

WaterSMART (Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow) is a program of the Department of the Interior that focuses on improving water conservation and helping water-resource managers make sound decisions about water use. 


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