Floods, hurricanes, and longer-term changes in climate and land use can have profound effects on water quality due to shifts in hydrologic flow paths, water residence time, precipitation patterns, connectivity between rivers and uplands, and many other factors. In order to understand and respond to changes in hydrology and water quality, resource managers and policy makers have a need for accurate and early indicators, as well as the ability to assess possible mechanisms and likely outcomes. In-situ optical sensors-those making continuous measurements of constituents by absorbance or fluorescence properties in the environment at timescales of minutes to years-have a long history in oceanography for developing highly resolved concentrations and fluxes, but are not commonly used in freshwater systems. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has developed the Aquatic Real-Time Monitoring Network, with high-resolution optical data collection for organic carbon, nutrients, and sediment in large coastal rivers, along with continuous measurements of discharge, water temperature, and dissolved inorganic carbon. The collecting of continuous water-quality data in the Nation?s waterways has revealed temporal trends and spatial patterns in constituents that traditional sampling approaches fail to capture, and will serve a critical role in monitoring, assessment and decision-making in a rapidly changing landscape.