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National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Project

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Effects of Urbanization on Stream Ecosystems

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USGS Circular 1373: Effects of Urban Development on Stream Ecosystems

USGS Circular 1378: Strategies for Managing the Effects of Urban Development on Streams

Fact Sheet: Urban Development Results in Stressors that Degrade Stream Ecosystems

Poster: Stream Ecosystems Change with Urban Development

Press Release: Streams Show Signs of Degradation at Earliest Stages of Urban Development

Examples of How New USGS Science is Informing Urban Management Decisions (.doc, 250K)

November 30, 2012 Congressional Briefing


Dr. Gerard McMahon, USGS,  Effects of Urban Development on Stream Ecosystems (PDF, 3.3 MB)
Ronald Bowen, P.E., Director of Department of Public Works, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Rehabilitating Urban Streams (PDF, 13.1 MB)
William Stack, P.E., Deputy Director of Programs, Center for Watershed Protection, Watershed Restoration in an Ultra-urban Environment (PDF, 5.6 MB)

Key Findings

Urban Development Results in Multiple Stressors That Can Degrade Aquatic Ecosystems by Altering the Hydrology, Habitat, and Chemistry of Streams
Results of the USGS investigation of the Effects of Urbanization on Stream Ecosystems (EUSE) found that no single environmental factor was universally important in explaining why the health of streams decline as levels of urban development increase. Across all nine metropolitan study areas, changes in the condition of the aquatic biological communities from urban development were related in varying degrees to alterations in stream hydrology, habitat, and chemistry. Even within a single study area, the three biological communities that we surveyed—algal, fish, and invertebrate —responded differently to urban development and altered environmental factors. A primary reason that the responses are different between the algal, invertebrate, and fish communities is that they have different life cycles and requirements for food, shelter, and reproduction; consequently, their responses typically vary with stressors that arise from urban-related changes in stream hydrology, habitat, and water chemistry.
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