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Watershed Research in the U.S. Geological Survey Executive Summary Watershed research is conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to expand our understanding of basic hydrologic mechanisms and their responses at the watershed scale and to provide information that serves as the basis for water and environmental management activities carried out largely by other governmental and private entities. The work of the USGS in this area is carried out by its Water Resources Division and occurs in three general program areas: basic research, regional and site assessments, and data collection. These activities are becoming increasingly important, especially in the context of water and environmental management, where contemporary problems are being approached more than ever on an integrated ecosystems or watershed basis and where the underlying physical, chemical, and biological science is complex. Although the value of this type of hydrologic research is well recognized within the USGS, available financial resources to support it remain modest. Thus, this study seeks to help maximize the effectiveness of the agency's work. The study took two years, during which time the committee visited field sites, received briefings, reviewed descriptive materials, deliberated toward conclusions, and wrote this report. Recommendations are intended to assist the USGS in improving its overall strategy for work in this area; descriptions of a number of scientific opportunities are included, and appropriate circumstances for collaboration with and support for others are identified. The committee concluded that the needs for watershed science are considerable and diverse and that the USGS, as a scientific nonregulatory agency, has important roles to play in generating knowledge, information, and data. To be most effective, the USGS must focus most of its work in areas that can provide key information on problems of significance to the
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Watershed Research in the U.S. Geological Survey nation. The committee identified four particular research areas that merit more attention than in the past: (1) relatively larger watersheds, (2) urban and urbanizing watersheds, (3) restoration of damaged watersheds, and (4) erosion and sedimentation processes in watersheds. These conclusions follow from the finding that transferring knowledge about processes affecting the quantity and quality of water from work in small, relatively pristine watersheds to larger and/or more urban watersheds has not always been effectual. Although there is great interest and merit in restoration of aquatic ecosystems, the scientific basis supporting relevant decisions is weak. Further, renewed attention to the science of erosion and sediment transport and deposition is required to help address problems related to the transport and fate of sediment-bound hazardous materials in watershed systems. An effective watershed research program for the USGS should consist of three main components: measurement and monitoring for a hierarchy of watersheds of various sizes; intense study of several small experimental watersheds to provide information on hydrologic processes for other major programs (e.g., the National Water Quality Assessment program); and a modeling program component to help interpret measurements made at the large scale in terms of process understanding occurring at the smaller scale. The USGS already has in place much activity of this nature. However, there is not an adequate organizational structure to provide for integration of efforts. Such a structure should be established in order to develop important links among elements. Additionally, there needs to be a commitment to making advances in hydrologic modeling and the maintenance of any research watershed for at least 10 years; observations over lesser time periods are of little value. Finally, there are many opportunities to collaborate on watershed work with others. The Agricultural Research Service, Forest Service, and National Science Foundation carry out or support watershed research similar in nature to that of the USGS. Collaboration, which is already occurring in a number of instances, can effectively expand the resources and experiences of all involved and should be pursued. Management or regulatory agencies, such as the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and many state agencies, have strong interests in the results of watershed work. Coordination with such ''consumers'' can help contribute to better resource management and help assure continued relevancy of USGS efforts. The USGS also must look to the future and help educate properly the next generation of water resources professionals. Collaboration with university students, professors, and researchers on watershed projects represents an excellent
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Watershed Research in the U.S. Geological Survey opportunity and has many benefits—both to the USGS and to students—and must be pursued.
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