Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station [Water Resources Program]

Stream Visual Assessment Protocol (SVAP)

The SVAP tool was originally developed by the US Department of Agriculture and modified for New Jersey streams by Omni Environmental Corporation (Princeton, NJ) and Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program. SVAP has been used extensively by the Water Resources Program to document stream conditions and relate these conditions to land use, water quality, and habitat. The SVAP tool is used to assign a numeric value to stream conditions such as channel stability, riparian health, water appearance, nutrient enrichment, and access to the floodplain. The SVAP tool has also been applied to GPS outfalls and drainage ditches discharging to the stream.

Site showing restoration potential and implementation success.

With the data that is collected, stream reaches can be photo-documented and even monitored for changes over the long-term. Additionally, the information can be utilized to prioritize streams for restoration, trash pick-ups, educational and awareness campaigns, and re-vegetation efforts.

To our knowledge, more than 700 stream reaches have been visually assessed with SVAP. Organization of data has been made easier recently with an online data entry system that can be impor ted to ArcGIS. This enables a spatial display of all SVAP data points, and allows for environmental data analysis. Watershed areas that have used SVAP to document stream conditions include the following:

  • Ramapo River,
  • Pequannock River,
  • Wanaque River,
  • Pompton River,
  • Strawbridge Lake Watershed,
  • Pompeston River,
  • Upper Salem River,
  • Upper Cohansey River,
  • Tenakill Brook,
  • Musquapsink Brook,
  • Musconetcong River,
  • Neshanic River,
  • Raccoon Creek,
  • Oldman’s Creek,
  • and others.

In 2007, the Water Resources Program offered two training workshops on SVAP. Typically, training consists of morning classroom time and the afternoon spent conducting visual assessments at a local stream in New Brunswick. These training workshops have been well-attended, and we look forward to hosting others in the future.

In-classroom SVAP training, May 2007

If you would like to add your name to our mailing list to find out about this and other training opportunities, please contact Greg Rusciano at:

To download SVAP: USDA Stream Visual Assessment Protocol

To download the RCE-revised data sheet: Stream Visual Assessment Protocol Data Sheet Template

The DO’s and DON’T’s of SVAP
  • DO work with a partner or group of people. It’s safer, and you will have the opportunity to discuss stream characteristics and determine the best possible score.
  • DO ask permission before going on private property.
  • DON’T ignore factors such as hunting season, tick season, and possible flooding conditions.
  • DO alert the township and police department if you think residents will be concerned about your activity in and around the stream.
  • DO carry information about the SVAP tool and why you are doing these assessments. Homeowners and those who live in the watershed may be curious about what you’re doing. Providing them with project and organization contact information will help to increase awareness of stream protection and may enhance stewardship and participation in watershed protection.
  • DON’T enter streams before knowing the depth and the condition (muckiness) of the stream bed.
  • DO alert the appropriate authority if you see illegal dumping, hazardous waste, or a spilled liquid affecting the stream. You should also alert the NJDEP of illegal discharges by calling 1-800-WARN-DEP.
  • DO call the local municipal and/or county health departments to report suspicion of illicit connections (stormwater pipes discharging after 3 days of dry weather).