The Place for Aquatic Resources

The California Aquatic Resources Inventory (CARI) is a seamless statewide map compiled from multiple data sources and standardized to a common classification system. This statewide dataset provides the best available map of inland state surface waters and serves as the base map in EcoAtlas to coordinate monitoring and assessment at the landscape scale across federal, state, and local agencies, while providing enough detail to inform local land use planning.

How is CARI Used?

CARI is a Geographic Information System (GIS) dataset of inland surface waters and their riparian areas consisting of polygon and line features with data-rich attributes that can be used for developing broad- or fine-scale landscape summaries of aquatic resource quantity and quality. Accompanying CARI is the CARI Editor, an interactive, online GIS mapping interface that facilitates user-generated updates to information associated with the CARI dataset. When users encounter any discrepancy between CARI and the actual landscape, they can suggest changes that can be reviewed and incorporated into the authoritative CARI data, thereby maintaining CARI’s currency and ready applicability to decision making.

This statewide dataset is hosted online through EcoAtlas, an online toolset that supports the State’s three level monitoring and assessment framework described in the Tenets of a State Wetland and Riparian Area Monitoring Plan (WRAMP), which in-turn advances the State’s Wetland and Riparian Area Protection Policy (WRAPP).  The WRAMP framework employs the Federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) recommended three level monitoring and assessment framework for wetlands of which the first level includes landscape level assessments and profiles.  CARI is the statewide base-map for those assessments.

Learn more about CARI on its project page.

Why is it important to monitor the condition of a wetland?

In a wetlands. Photo by Chad Roberts

Photo: Chad Roberts

Wetlands serve many functions for people and wildlife – including furnishing habitat, offering wildlife refugia, filtering contaminants, sequestering carbon, and buffering waves from rising sea levels. However, those many functions are compromised when a wetland is functioning poorly. One might call such a wetland “unhealthy.” Therefore, as stewards of the environment, we must take an active role in assessing the health of our wetlands. Such information can lead to decisions and actions to ensure that our wetlands not only survive but also thrive. A wetland in the highest condition offers the greatest suite of ecosystem benefits.

Wetland recovery can take a very long time. Even with active wetland restoration projects, habitat development can take decades, and there can be many obstacles to a successful outcome. That’s why it is important that we repeatedly monitor the condition of our wetlands, to get timely information that can help inform actions we can take to correct any adverse impacts or slower-than-expected habitat development.

Those interested in monitoring our creeks, rivers, marshes, vernal pools, and other wetland features need cost-effective, standardized ways to measure change over time, so that one site can be compared to another and its “health” measured as objectively as possible.

Rapid assessments speed delivery of actionable information

The California Rapid Assessment Method or CRAM is a standard method to measure the condition of various wetland features. Used across the state, CRAM features reference sites, a structured system of metrics, and a host of analytical tools to ensure the highest quality of information to guide decision making. And as a rapid assessment method, its cost effectiveness makes possible repeat site visits and its adoption by programs across the state. Furthermore, on EcoAtlas, it works hand-in-hand with more intensive site monitoring to address specific scientific monitoring questions.

California and its partners developed the method over decades. This investment of time, resources, and ideas has produced one of the nation’s best methods for assessing the condition of wetlands. It is now practiced across the state by hundreds of licensed practitioners. Because the methodology is standardized for seven major types of wetlands and their subtypes, it is broadly applicable throughout California and can be used to compare wetlands to each other and over time at local, regional and statewide scales.

CRAM offers many benefits including:

  • a suite of metrics specifically tuned to different types of wetlands
  • routine training to impart details of the method, calibrate among practitioners, and ensure intercomparable results
  • public access to timely data and information
  • an interorganizational governance structure to ensure consistent management and use of the method and its data
  • standards-based analytical tools including habitat development curves, cumulative distribution function, and ecological condition bins

The rapid assessment information about wetland condition offers both a high-level view to decision-makers and more detailed information for wetland managers, researchers, and other stakeholders.

How are rapid assessment data used?

Statewide Projects

With over 8,000 assessments available throughout California, CRAM has become a trusted tool to help land managers determine where to deploy resources to adjust wetland restoration projects plans, anticipate impacts, and compare site conditions across the state. The Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project uses CRAM to judge the efficacy of its wetland restoration efforts. Meanwhile, Caltrans trusts CRAM as a way to demonstrate its effective stewardship of aquatic resources adjacent to or within its right of way.

As a vital component of the Wetland and Riparian Area Monitoring Program (WRAMP) framework – pairing remote sensing data with rapid condition assessments and more intensive monitoring – the California Rapid Assessment Method works harmoniously with traditional, intensive site monitoring, which is still required by permits and research. Rapid assessments are not designed to replace intensive monitoring, but rather, they can be used to screen potential sites and determine where more expensive monitoring might be most effective.

The method is available to all who are properly trained. New CRAM practitioners are always welcome. Learn more about CRAM and how you might either use or produce wetland condition information.

Want to know where to find habitat projects?

Habitat restoration includes voluntary restoration, restoration/re-establishment, and restoration/rehabilitation. More and more groups rely on Project Tracker to assist with their reporting because Project Tracker standardizes project data across programs for analytical and reporting purposes. It is the most comprehensive dataset for project information in most regions of California.

Project Tracker as the Best Source of Project Information for the SF Estuary

Keep it up!

You can help make regional rep orting more accurate and complete by entering your projects into Project Tracker and keeping the information up-to-date. Projects are also visualized and integrated with other datasets in EcoAtlas. For more information, visit

Tools Tuned to Your Purpose

EcoAtlas dashboards offer summarized views of qualified information provided by Project Tracker and the California Aquatic Resource Inventory (CARI). These dynamic visualizations help measure the cumulative benefits of public policies and programs for California's aquatic resources.

Synthesized project information contributed by restoration practitioners and permittees can be dynamically queried in understandable regional summaries. Agency and program executives can quickly access relevant information to address management questions. As interactive summaries, the dashboards are useful in the context of local, regional, and statewide agency programs, where interested users can explore the summarized information at various spatial scales.

The dashboards also reveal differences in the availability of information from place to place. By helping to identify missing information, the EcoAtlas dashboards will help address these gaps in the future.

If you are interested in accessing data on a project-by-project basis, then the EcoAtlas download tools provide ready access to the hosted project data. You are able to filter by numerous geospatial, categorical, and other means.

A Toolset to Operationalize Established Science

EcoAtlas is the toolset of the Wetland and Riparian Area Monitoring Plan (WRAMP) developed by the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup (CWMW). The toolset’s functions, data, and resulting outputs -- maps, charts, and analyses -- reflect the methods and peer-reviewed studies that emerge from WRAMP. The WRAMP Framework page contains a trove of studies, reports, and presentations that demonstrate the support for the WRAMP framework and EcoAtlas. A central aspect of the WRAMP framework is a classification of environmental data, their methods of collection, and their stated purposes into the following three levels:

  • Maps and spatial information. These data consist of map-based inventories of aquatic areas and related resources, including rivers, streams, lakes, bays, wetlands, and their riparian areas, plus events and activities that have a direct effect on the distribution, abundance, diversity, or condition of aquatic resources. Maps may serve to plan and conduct landscape and watershed profiles of aquatic resource condition.
  • General wetland condition information. This extensive dataset comprises rapid, field-based semi-quantitative measures of the overall condition or health of aquatic resources. In California, the California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) is the most widely used method for assessing the overall health of wetlands and streams. Other assessment tools exist and may also be used when needed.
  • Specific condition information. These datasets are quantitative, field measurements of specific aspects of condition. Plant species composition, nesting bird surveys, spawning success, and groundwater recharge rates are examples of these data types.

Learn about the activities of the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup, including details about the Wetland and Riparian Monitoring Plan (WRAMP).

EcoAtlas Support

The toolset enjoys funding, data, and in-kind services from a variety of organizations, including but not limited to:

  • state agencies, such as the Regional and State Water Boards, CalTrans, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife;

  • federal agencies, such as the US Army Corp of Engineers and NOAA-NMFS, which stores its Southern California eelgrass restoration projects in EcoAtlas;

  • local agencies, such as Flood Control Districts, Water Agdencies, and Resource Conservation Districts that have  sponsored tool development.

  • special districts, such as flood control, resource conservation, and mosquito abatement districts;

  • non-governmental agencies, such as SCCWRP, Central Coast Wetlands Group, SFEI, and Joint Ventures.

Who Uses EcoAtlas?

In addition, EcoAtlas, CRAM, CARI and Project Tracker were included in Proposition 1 guidelines for managing information on restoration projects. The CWMW and its associated technical  committees will continue to guide development of EcoAtlas and other WRAMP toolsets. EcoAtlas development will continue to be funded by grants and contracts to the EcoAtlas development and user communities. US Environmental Protection Agency, San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, California State Water Resources Control Board, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the California Ocean Protection Council, State Coastal Conservancy, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife have provided substantial funding, in-kind services, or datasets for tool enhancements over recent years.

More About our Partners

Learn more about the many partners who support the toolset.

EcoAtlas is a set of tools for generating, assembling, storing, visualizing, sharing, and reporting environmental data and information. The tools can be used individually or together, and they can be adjusted or tuned to meet the specific needs of environmental planners, regulators, managers, scientists, and educators. The maps and tools can be used to create a complete picture of aquatic resources in the landscape by integrating stream and wetland maps, restoration information, and monitoring results with land use, transportation, and other information important to the state’s wetlands.

Programs and Focus Areas: 
Environmental Informatics Program
Geographic Information Systems
Software Engineering
Wetland Monitoring & Assessment
Location Information
General Project Location(s):