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Beyond streamflow: Call for a national data repository of streamflow presence for streams and rivers in the United States

June 9, 2021

Observations of the presence or absence of surface water in streams are useful for characterizing streamflow permanence, which includes the frequency, duration, and spatial extent of surface flow in streams and rivers. Such data are particularly valuable for headwater streams, which comprise the vast majority of channel length in stream networks, are often non-perennial, and are frequently the most data deficient. Datasets of surface water presence exist across multiple data collection groups in the United States but are not well aligned for easy integration. Given the value of these data, a unified approach for organizing information on surface water presence and absence collected by diverse surveys would facilitate more effective and broad application of these data and address the gap in streamflow data in headwaters. In this paper, we highlight the numerous existing datasets on surface water presence in headwater streams, including recently developed crowdsourcing approaches. We identify the challenges of integrating multiple surface water presence/absence datasets that include differences in the definitions and categories of streamflow status, data collection method, spatial and temporal resolution, and accuracy of geographic location. Finally, we provide a list of critical and useful components that could be used to integrate different streamflow permanence datasets.