How to tell if your watershed is in good condition

How can we tell if our watershed is in good condition?
Here are a few simple things to check:

Riparian vegetation along a healthy stream
Riparian vegetation
Vegetation along streambanks provides shade, food and shelter for aquatic macroinvertebrates and stabilizes the banks. Steep, bare spots along a stream may indicate places with increased erosion. To learn more about riparian vegetation click here.

Stream Temperature
Many of Utah's streams have cold-water fish, macroinvertebrates, and amphibians that require cold temperatures (maximum: 20 degrees Celcius, 68 degrees Farenheit) to survive. Temperatures may fluctuate across seasons, but drastic temperature changes can hinder the metabolic activity of organisms.

Water color
Clear Brown Green Oily Sheen
Clear water is most desirable, but it doesn't necessarily mean the water is clean. Some pollutants are not colored.

Erosion of sediments can cause streams to appear brown or cloudy. This is not necessarily a bad sign. All streams have a natural level of turbidity (how much suspended material is in the water). For example, the Colorado River is very turbid, yet its waters hold abundant life.

Green water can be caused by excessive algae. This generally is an indicator of poor water quality. An oily or rainbow sheen on water is an indicator of poor water quality. Oil usually enters waterways from runoff of oil on roads from automobiles.

Natural foam in a stream
Riffle and pool
Algae growth
Scattered algae indicates a healthy stream. Matted or hairy algae may indicate poor health. An algae bloom indicates excess nutrients, which may come from fertilizers, manure and leaf litter. To learn more about the effects of excess nutrients in streams click here.

Foam
In a stream foam can be natural or anthropogenic. Natural foam will have an earthy or fishy smell and will be white, cream-colored, or brown. It will usually be described as more "pillowy" rather than "sudsy". Pollution from detergents can create foam that may smell like soap or perfume and will be white and sudsy.

Riffles, runs and pools
Riffles are the shallow sections of a stream where the water breaks over cobbles, boulders and gravel. A run is the sections of a stream where water is flowing rapidly, generally downstream from riffles. Runs are deeper than riffles. Pools are the deepest and slowest moving sections of a stream. The ideal habitat for many aquatic animals is a mix riffles, runs and pools.

Find out more about your watershed

Surf Your Watershed (EPA)

Beneficial Uses and Water Quality Assessment Map (Utah DEQ)

Utah Water Watch (USU Water Quality Extension)

Science in Your Watershed (USGS)

Watershed Factsheets (USU Water Quality Extension)