You may not be able to tell if a creek or stream has water quality problems just by looking at it, but the Natural Resources Conservation Service's National Water and Climate Center has a new tool to evaluate water quality and stream habitats. It's called the Stream Visual Assessment Protocol, and it's available on the NRCS Web site.

The 44-page document provides a procedure for landowners and conservationists to evaluate the condition of a stream based on visual characteristics. By completing the protocol you can get an overall assessment of the stream's condition and riparian ecosystems and then identify opportunities to enhance biological value.

You also can obtain information on how streams function and the importance of protecting these areas. According to NRCS, you can complete the assessment in 15 to 20 minutes with no prior training.

You can download the complete PDF-guide onto your computer at