Recreational Water Quality

Science Center Objects

People love to play in water. The USGS works to ensure that water in our nation’s streams, lakes, and oceans are suitable for the moments when you just need to jump in.


All people depend on water...plain and simple. But a person's dependence on water goes way beyond the basic need to drink it to stay alive. People also rely on water for the joy it brings. Water gives adventurers, wanderers, and lovers of nature a place to play, visit, and appreciate. It can be used to build a sense of community. Likewise, beaches, lakes, and rivers provide recreational opportunities to swim, surf, water ski, scuba dive, sail, boat, or fish. Given the human dependence for water, it’s easy to understand why there is a constant need to study water quality in the Nation’s waterways. The USGS monitors many of the country’s most beloved waters. Much of this effort focuses on assessing the current conditions of popular lakes, beaches, and streams.



 USGS scientists measure beach elevation and other profile characteristics

USGS scientists measure beach elevation and other profile characteristics as part of a project that models how barrier islands will likely change with sea-level rise. (Credit: Sara Zeigler, USGS)

Our activities and the ways we use our Nation's lakes, beaches, and streams affect the quality of our drinking water, our recreational opportunities, and the health and diversity of aquatic plants and animals. Our activities also affect whether our rivers and streams will continue to be beautiful places to visit and vistas to contemplate. 

The water quality of a nearby lake, a watershed, or along the coast can be enhanced only by collecting good information about conditions and by responding locally to that information. People living and working in an area are often in the best position to identify priority water issues and to understand the political, social, and economic context in which those issues are addressed. The USGS monitors over 7,500 streams for streamflow - great for knowing rafting conditions - and water quality - great for deciding if fish might be biting. The USGS also conducts 1,000s of studies around the country to assess conditions that may affect environmental or human health. This USGS research helps those who manage our Nation's most important recreational resources have the best information to make decisions that keeps our Nation's most important resource - YOU - safe during your next trip.