A national network of hydrological benchmarks

Circular 460-B




We are engaged in great national programs of water control and development. An expanding population demands ever-increasing supplies of the natural resources which are to be found in or upon the landscape soil, water, minerals, food, timber, and fiber. By his works, by his extractions, man's mark upon his environment becomes ever deeper, his effects more indelible.

We often read that water tables are falling, that floods are increasing, that springs go dry more often now than in grandfather's time, or that rivers are muddier than before. Such changes, if true, are troublesome but water is a fluctuating resource, responding over time to changes in the environment. A recurring question of our times, and one that we anticipate will be increasingly vexing to posterity, is to know how much of the change in our environment is caused by man and how much is natural. In trying to answer this question we immediately face the insurmountable fact that changes must be measured relative to some standard base or datum. What can we compare against?

The most pervasive and probably the most important of the slow and subtle changes result directly or indirectly from variations in climate. Over a shorter or longer period of time, pulsations in precipitation and temperature change the amounts of water that are evaporated or transpired by the soil and vegetation, the amount of water that replenishes soil water, the quantity of water for recharge to ground water and for riverflow. Climatic variations also cause changes in the pattern of erosion, of which some spectacular consequences can be observed in the arid zones. Changes in climatic pattern, through their effects on the hydrologic cycle, on soil, and on vegetation, can produce results remarkably similar to those effected by the works of man.

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USGS Numbered Series
A national network of hydrological benchmarks
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U.S. Geological Survey
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Washington, D.C.
4 p.
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