Frequently Asked Questions

Water

The USGS monitors and studies a wide range of water resources and water conditions, including streamflow, groundwater, water quality, and water use and availability.

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USGS hydrologic technician installing a rapid deployment streamgage
The USGS usually corrects any equipment or station problems at our streamgages within a few days of their occurrence. Occasionally, replacement parts or equipment might not be readily available, or a station might be inaccessible due to weather conditions. Most USGS streamgaging stations are operated in cooperation with other agencies. At some...
Image: Measuring Streamflow
USGS real-time streamflow data are typically recorded at 15-minute intervals, stored onsite, and then transmitted to USGS offices once every hour, depending on the data relay technique used. Recording and transmission times might be more frequent during critical events (floods, for example). Data from current sites are relayed to USGS offices via...
Virginia Data Resources streamflow data cover image 0
The best starting point for USGS streamflow data is the interactive National Water Information System (NWIS): Mapper website. Zoom in to your area of interest or use the search options in the left navigation window. The map displays active surface-water sites by default, but you can change the type of water site (surface-water, groundwater,...
Image: Streamgage Maine
Information on the flow of rivers is a vital national asset that safeguards lives, protects property, and ensures adequate water supplies for the future. The USGS is the federal agency responsible for operating a network of about 7,000 streamgages nationwide. Data from this network are used by water managers, emergency responders, utilities,...
Girls getting a glass of water at a well pump at The Tollgate House, Meridian Historical Village, Okemos, MI
Contact your county or state health department or check with your State Certification Officer for a list of state certified laboratories in your area that do water testing. The cost will vary, depending on the laboratory and the test(s), but people usually consider the cost to be reasonable. Also try using your browser's search engine to do a...
Image: Divers in Devils Hole
Devils Hole is a tectonic cave developed in the discharge zone of a regional aquifer in south-central Nevada. The walls of this predominantly subaqueous (underwater) cavern are coated with dense vein calcite that precipitated from groundwater moving through the cavern. The stable isotopic content of the calcite provides a 500,000-year record of...
illustration of cross-sectional view of Long Island aquifer system
A confined aquifer is an aquifer below the land surface that is saturated with water. Layers of impermeable material are both above and below the aquifer, causing it to be under pressure so that when the aquifer is penetrated by a well, the water will rise above the top of the aquifer. A water-table--or unconfined--aquifer is an aquifer whose...
Flowing groundwater site in Indiana
A well is said to have gone dry when water levels drop below a pump intake. This does not mean that a dry well will never have water in it again, as the water level may come back through time as recharge increases. The water level in a well depends on a number of things, such as the depth of the well, the type (confined or unconfined) of aquifer...
contour maps of water-table surface of Long Island
The depth to the water table can change (rise or fall) depending on the time of year. During the late winter and spring when accumulated snow starts to melt and spring rainfall is plentiful, water on the surface infiltrates into the ground and the water table rises. When water-loving plants start to grow again in the spring and precipitation gives...
Aquifers: Map of the Principal Aquifers of the United States
This Ground Water Atlas of the United States is a series of USGS publications that describe the location, the extent, and the geologic and hydrologic characteristics of the important aquifers of the Nation. The series consists of 13 chapters that describe the regional groundwater resources that collectively cover 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the U....
Photo of USGS staffer collecting groundwater sample
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are widely used in the manufacture of many products including refrigerants, plastics, adhesives, paints, and petroleum products, have been detected in about one-third of the wells sampled by the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program of the USGS.  Chloroform and other trihalomethanes, the most...
Image: Scientist Taking Water Samples
The National Field Manual for the Collection of Water-Quality Data (National Field Manual) provides guidelines and standard procedures for USGS personnel who collect data used to assess the quality of the Nation’s surface water and groundwater resources. The manual is published as separate chapters. Learn more: Techniques of Water-Resources...