The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is the nation's largest earth and biological science and civilian mapping agency, and has the principal responsibility within the federal government for appraising the nation's water resources. The USGS is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior and concentrates scientific work in four disciplines: mapping, geology, biology, and water. The USGS has no regulatory or land-management responsibilities; its role is to provide impartial science that serves the needs of a changing world.
Scientists in the USGS Water Resources Division collect hydrologic data and conduct research and hydrologic studies to describe the quantity, quality, location, and movement of the water resources of the United States. The USGS maintains large databases of historical records containing water information collected at more than 1.5 million sites, with records dating back to the late 1800s. The collection, analysis, and interpretation of these data are done in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies, universities, and research centers.
Like all data collected, the water resources information obtained by the USGS is based on strict methods of data collection and quality control standards, and is subjected to detailed scientific review. Such standards allow the water data collected by the USGS to be considered the established impartial source of water information for the nation. As a result, the many organizations that use water resource information provided by the USGS can be confident in its scientific quality.
The hydrologic information developed by the USGS is available to anyone interested in water resources, particularly the resources of the United States. Water managers and policymakers use USGS water information to determine the adequacy of water supplies; to activate flood-warning systems; to design dams, bridges, and flood-control projects; to assess the quality of surface waters and groundwaters ; to locate sources of pollution; and to plan for energy development. Individual citizens use USGS water information to determine real-time streamflow of local streams for boating or fishing, and to obtain groundwater information about local aquifers .
The U.S. Geological Survey was established in 1879 and charged to accomplish the Irrigation Survey of western arid lands in 1888. While stream measurements were part of the Irrigation Survey, it was not until 1894 that the U.S. Congress specifically appropriated funding for the USGS to gage streams. In 1896, the USGS began the study of groundwater.
As populations continued to grow in the early 1900s, the role of the USGS in studying water resources expanded to industrial and municipal water supplies. The drought of the 1930s resulted in a greater need for water information, and by 1935, the USGS was collecting data on both surface and groundwater in most states.
In the 1940s, the USGS developed programs to characterize and quantify water supplies. In the 1950s, the USGS began fundamental research
In the twenty-first century, the USGS continues to provide the diverse scientific expertise needed to assess the quantity, quality, and availability of America's most precious natural resource, with an increased emphasis on integrated science to provide solutions and to address the complex issues facing society.
SEE ALSO PO WELL , John Wesley .
Follansbee, R. A History of the Water Resources Branch, U.S. Geological Survey: Volume I. From Predecessor Surveys to June 30, 1919. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey, 1994.