Analysis | Published:

Tracking the pulse of the Earth’s fresh waters

Nature Sustainabilityvolume 1pages198203 (2018) | Download Citation


Reliable accounting of freshwater resources is key to managing hydrologic risk and balancing freshwater allocations for ecosystems and society. However, recent claims have argued that the global hydrometric network is not keeping pace with monitoring needs. Here we examine this question globally and reveal that over the past four decades the number of streamgaging stations reporting to global, open datasets has been declining. In the United States, a declining trend was reversed by the turn of the century, but high volatility at the river basin scale threatens continued monitoring in over a quarter of the river basins of the conterminous United States. We propose to prioritize streamgaging rescue by identifying watersheds that heavily rely on hydrologic data to support freshwater biodiversity conservation, and to manage flood or water scarcity risk to human populations. We argue that actions at different institutional levels are needed to secure the accumulation of long-term data needed for sustainable water management.

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We thank D. Yeskis, B. Reece and R. Mason (USGS) for answering our questions regarding US streamgage monitoring. We also thank M. Palmer and T. Grantham for their comments. A.R. was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), under funding received from NSF DBI-1052875. Financial support was provided by a H. Mason Keeler Endowed Professorship (School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington) to J.D.O.

Author information


  1. National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), University of Maryland, Annapolis, MD, USA

    • Albert Ruhi
  2. Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

    • Albert Ruhi
  3. School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

    • Mathis L. Messager
    •  & Julian D. Olden


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A.R., M.L.M. and J.D.O. designed the research. M.L.M. collated and visualized the data. A.R. and M.L.M. analysed the data. A.R., M.L.M. and J.D.O. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julian D. Olden.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1 and 2; Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary references

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