Environmental Management

, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 629-635

First online:

Regional reference sites: a method for assessing stream potentials

  • Robert M. HughesAffiliated withNorthrop Services, Inc.
  • , David P. LarsenAffiliated withUS Environmental Protection Agency
  • , James M. OmernikAffiliated withUS Environmental Protection Agency

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Field assessments of impacted streams require a control or at least an unbiased estimate of attainable conditions. Control sites, such as upstream/downstream or wilderness sites, have proven inadequate for assessing attainable ecological conditions where the control streams differ naturally from the impacted streams to a considerable degree or where different disturbances exist than those being studied. Relatively undisturbed reference sites with watersheds in areas having the same land-surface form, soil, potential natural vegetation, and land use as are predominant in large, relatively homogeneous regions are suggested as alternative control sites. These areas are considered typical of the region and therefore the sites also are considered typical of the region because their watersheds exhibit all the terrestrial variables that make that region a region. The logical basis for developing regional reference sites lies in the ability to group watersheds and common stream types into regions by integrating available maps of terrestrial variables that influence streams. Relatively undisturbed reference sites can be selected from typical areas of the regions and from transition zones where one or two of the terrestrial variables are not the predominant one(s) of the region. These reference sites are useful for estimating attainable conditions, for evaluating temporal and spatial changes in ecological integrity, for classifying attainable uses of streams, and for setting biological and environmental criteria.

Key words

Aquatic ecosystems Aquatic ecoregions Control sites Stream classification Land classification Water body standards