Habitat monitoring methods

We monitor the health of streams by measuring the health of habitat, water, and sediment chemistry.

We collect a variety of data to evaluate conditions at rivers and streams throughout Washington. In addition to collecting biological data — such as fish, macroinvertebrates, and periphyton — we measure a variety of habitat, water, and sediment chemistry, as well as multiple physical parameters. It is vital to collect data using consistent procedures and methodologies, which allows us to evaluate the data for patterns and trends across time and space.

Different studies, same protocols

Several monitoring studies, each addressing different questions — such as Watershed Health Monitoring, Ambient Stream Biological Monitoring, Status & Trends Sentinel Monitoring, and Water Quality Improvement Effectiveness Monitoring — all use the same protocols when collecting biological, chemical, and physical parameter data at a particular stream reach. We collect all data during our sampling period, from July 1 to Oct. 15.

Two scientists suspend a measuring tape across a slow-moving forest stream.

Measuring wetted width across a forest stream.

Reaches divided into transects

All stream reaches sampled are divided into 11 transects. In each of these, we collect a variety of data on substrate size, riparian and fish habitat, large woody debris, and various measures of human disturbance.

All of these data are recorded in electronic field forms loaded onto electronic field tablets. Once the data are uploaded directly into our Environmental Information Management (EIM) database from the electronic field forms, 262 habitat metrics are generated and reported in EIM. More information about the habitat metrics generated and detailed information about the methods we use are provided in the links below.

Quality assurance monitoring plans

Standard operating procedures

We are in the process of making all Watershed Health Monitoring Standard Operating Procedures available to the public. Those that have been published are available at the link below: