In 1991, a 76-mile reach of the Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska was designated as a National Scenic River (NSR). This reach of the river hosts a unique ecosystem that provides habitat for a diverse fish and wildlife population that include several threatened and endangered species. The Niobrara NSR also is a popular destination for campers, canoeists, kayakers, and tubers.
Changes in surface-water quality, related to recreation, industrial and municipal discharge, and agricultural activities in the region have the potential to affect fish and wildlife populations within the Niobrara NSR. Additionally, water users may be at risk if elevated concentrations of chemical or biological contaminants are present in the waterway. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Park Service (NPS) began a 3-year cooperative study of water-quality characteristics in Niobrara NSR in 2003. During the study, water samples were collected for analysis of a suite of physical, chemical, and biological indicators of water quality in the Niobrara River. The resulting data have been published previously (Hitch and others, 2004; Hitch and others, 2005) and included: major ions, nutrients, trace elements, pesticides, organic (wastewater) compounds, bacteria, and suspended sediment. In addition to water-quality sampling, fish communities were sampled to identify the presence and diversity of species at selected sites (data available online in Annual Water Data Reports). These water-quality and fish-community data are summarized in this report. The data were collected to provide baseline information that will help NPS managers determine if changes in recreational activities, land-use practices, and other factors are affecting the Niobrara River.