Stream health rankings predicted by satellite derived land cover metrics

Marcia N. Snyder, Scott J. Goetz, Robb K. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Land cover and land use change have long been known to influence the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of streams. This study makes use of land cover maps derived from fine resolution satellite imagery and an extensive stream quality dataset to determine the relationship between small watershed health rankings and land cover composition and configuration. Landscape metrics were derived from digital impervious surface area (ISA), tree cover (percent), and agricultural crop maps within Montgomery County, Maryland. Watershed rankings were developed by state and county collaborators (MD-DNR and MCDEP) using extensive biological and chemical measurements. In stepwise logistic regression models the factors accounting for the most variation in stream health ranking were the percent ISA, followed by the percent of tree cover. Riparian buffer zone tree cover was also a significant predictor. Of the metrics that considered the spatial configuration of the landscape, a contagion index and the percent of ISA in the flow path from the ISA to the stream were also found to be significant predictors of stream health. Despite limited ability to characterize landscape configuration or narrow riparian buffer zone vegetation with coarser resolution imagery (from Landsat), model results were not significantly different from those based on the use of fine-resolution ISA information, suggesting that broader area applications of the approach are possible. The results indicate that management practices designed to improve stream water quality should focus on the amount of ISA and tree cover in both the watershed and within the buffer zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number03153
Pages (from-to)659-677
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Land use planning
  • Remote sensing
  • Restoration
  • Riparian buffers
  • Stream health
  • Urbanization
  • Water quality
  • Watershed management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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