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April 21, 2021

Two new intensive water-resources monitoring stations and a meteorological station were recently installed to monitor the hydrology, water-quality, and ecology of two urban streams in Reston, Virginia. The USGS will evaluate data collected before, during, and after the implementation of stream improvements projects to see how effective they are at improving water quality and ec

The USGS Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center, in cooperation with Resource Protection Group, Inc., is partnering with Reston Association to monitor the hydrology, water-quality, and ecology of two restored urban streams in Reston, Virginia – Snakeden Branch and The Glade. These streams, and the natural areas that surround them, are highly valued by the Reston community as recreational areas and green-space escapes.

Two new intensive water-resources monitoring stations and a meteorological station were recently installed along these streams to provide hydrologic, water-quality, and ecological monitoring and analysis: 

These stations not only monitor real-time streamflow like typical USGS streamgages, but also continuous water-quality and meteorological parameters such as dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrogen, specific conductance, turbidity, air and water temperature, and precipitation at 5-minute increments. Discrete water-quality sampling and ecological surveys are also being conducted. Data collected at these stations will help evaluate stream conditions, estimate sediment and nutrient loads, and assess fish and benthic macroinvertebrate communities and habitat. All three stations include signage with QR codes allowing public visitors to access real-time data on their mobile phones. 

Small sign attached to the base of a gage house
Informational signs with QR codes linking to real-time data have been attached to monitoring sites associated with the Reston stream restoration research study. (Credit: Brendan Foster, USGS Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center)

There is a great deal of interest in repairing damaged urban ecosystems by implementing stream restoration and other best management practices (BMPs) in the hopes of returning them to more resilient, natural systems that provide a greater level of ecosystem services. However, while there is a growing body of scientific literature to inform the design of these practices, there is still a need to rigorously quantify water-quality and ecosystem responses at the local scale and to identify which practices provide the most benefit. The USGS will be conducting intensive monitoring before, during and after the implementation of urban stream water-quality improvement research projects, which will provide the foundational data needed to understand the current hydrology, water chemistry, and ecological conditions of Northern Virginia watersheds, and to evaluate changes in these conditions over time as experimental restoration practices are employed. 

The Reston study is not the only Northern Virginia-area project evaluating BMPs. The USGS Fairfax County Water Resources Monitoring Network project is studying BMP effectiveness at a watershed scale. Jointly funded and operated with the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, the Fairfax County Network includes 20 USGS stations, including five intensive water-resource monitoring stations, along with stormwater and benthic macroinvertebrate sampling, which provide information about the surface-water quantity and quality in numerous Fairfax County streams. These data are being used to evaluate water-quality improvements that are associated with BMP implementation activities, and evaluate if this study’s findings and methodology can be applied to other watersheds.


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