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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this project was provided by the U.S. Geological Survey under Grant No. 99HQAG0184.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
National Research Council
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievement of engineers. Dr. Wm. A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. Wm. A. Wulf are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.
COMMITTEE TO IMPROVE THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY NATIONAL WATER QUALITY ASSESSMENT PROGRAM
GEORGE R. HALLBERG, Chair,
The Cadmus Group, Inc., Waltham, Massachusetts
MICHAEL E. CAMPANA,
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
DANIEL B. CARR,
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
LORRAINE L. JANUS,
New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Valhalla, New York
JUDITH L. MEYER,
University of Georgia, Athens
KENNETH H. RECKHOW,
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
MARC O. RIBAUDO,
Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
PAUL V. ROBERTS,
Stanford University, California (until August 2000)
KENNETH K. TANJI,
University of California, Davis
RICHARD M. VOGEL,
Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts
MARYLYNN V. YATES,
University of California, Riverside
MARK C. GIBSON, Study Director
LAURA H. EHLERS, Study Director (until December 2000)
ELLEN A. DE GUZMAN, Research Associate
WATER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BOARD
RICHARD G. LUTHY, Chair,
Stanford University, Stanford, California
JOAN B. ROSE, Vice-Chair,
University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
RICHELLE M. ALLEN-KING,
Washington State University, Pullman
GREGORY B. BAECHER,
University of Maryland, College Park
KENNETH R. BRADBURY,
Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, Madison, Wisconsin
CH2M Hill, Boston, Massachusetts
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Pacific Institute, Oakland, California
STEVEN P. GLOSS,
U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona
JOHN LETEY, JR.,
University of California, Riverside
DIANE M. MCKNIGHT,
University of Colorado, Boulder
CHRISTINE L. MOE,
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
RUTHERFORD H. PLATT,
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
JERALD L. SCHNOOR,
University of Iowa, Iowa City
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg
R. RHODES TRUSSELL,
Montgomery Watson Harza, Pasadena, California
STEPHEN D. PARKER, Director
LAURA J. EHLERS, Senior Staff Officer
JEFFREY W. JACOBS, Senior Staff Officer
WILLIAM S. LOGAN, Senior Staff Officer
MARK C. GIBSON, Staff Officer
M. JEANNE AQUILINO, Administrative Associate
PATRICIA JONES KERSHAW, Study/Research Associate
ELLEN A. DE GUZMAN, Research Associate
ANITA A. HALL, Administrative Assistant
ANIKE L. JOHNSON, Project Assistant
JON Q. SANDERS, Project Assistant
From the 1950s through the 1970s, events ranging from health advisories to burning rivers brought public attention and scrutiny to the deteriorating state of water quality in the United States. Local, state, and even regional monitoring data confirmed problems in many areas. Such information contributed to the evolution of the environmental movement and the development of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also became clear that the nation had no program that was providing an adequate or systematic monitoring network to assess the status of waters throughout the nation, particularly related to the contaminants that had become the major concern in this modern era. Some federal, state, and even local organizations had developed excellent water quality monitoring programs, but they were often focused solely on local problems, used different methods, or were looking at geochemical phenomena, not the contaminant issues of real concern. As such, they could not adequately be amalgamated to provide a national picture. In the 1980s, Congress, federal and state agencies, and industry began to call for development of national approaches to assess and track water quality and to answer such fundamental questions as, Is the quality of water across the nation getting better or worse?
Since its inception in the late 1800s, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has become a major national contributor of scientific investigations and information about the nation’s waters. In particular, the USGS has long provided national and scientific leadership in the understanding of surface water hydrology, runoff, flood and discharge studies, water quantity issues, and more recently, groundwater hydrology. In the 1980s, the USGS was challenged to expand this role to address the quality of the nation’s waters, and it responded with the development of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. In fiscal year 1986,
Congress appropriated funds for the establishment of the NAWQA pilot program. NAWQA has since evolved from a pilot program into a respected, mature national monitoring program of unprecedented scope—one for which hopes and expectations also run high. From its earliest concept to the current plans for the future, three goals drive NAWQA’s design and development: (1) status—to provide a nationally consistent description of the current water quality conditions for a large part of the nation’s water resources; (2) trends—to define long-term trends (or lack of trends) in water quality; and (3) understanding—to identify, describe, and explain (to the extent possible) the major factors that affect (and cause) observed water quality conditions and trends. Although the exact wording of the goals has been refined over time, these three goals are the organizing themes for NAWQA’s past, present, and future.
Designing and implementing a national water quality assessment program is obviously a challenging task. Throughout the history of NAWQA, the USGS has periodically requested input and assistance from the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) of the National Research Council (NRC) to provide programmatic reviews of NAWQA or its key components—a reflection of the USGS’s ongoing concern to ensure the quality of scientific approaches for this important program. In 1999, the NRC was again approached to have WSTB convene a committee of experts to assist the continued development of NAWQA.
For this study, the committee was charged to provide guidance to the USGS on opportunities to improve the NAWQA program. More specifically, the committee was to conduct an initial assessment of general accomplishments in the NAWQA program to date by engaging in discussions with program scientists and others such as users of NAWQA products and by reviewing USGS internal reports on opportunities to improve NAWQA. The statement of task notes that the four main activities of the study committee was then to: (1) recommend methods for the improved understanding of the causative factors affecting water quality conditions; (2) determine whether information produced in the program can be extrapolated so as to allow inferences about water quality conditions in areas not studied intensely in NAWQA; (3) assess the completeness and appropriateness of priority issues (e.g., pesticides, nutrients, volatile organic compounds, trace elements) selected for broad investigation under the national synthesis component of the program; and (4) describe how information generated at the study unit scale can be aggregated and presented so as to be meaningful at the regional and national levels.
Though not specifically noted in the committee’s statement of task, the timing of this latest request carried with it an imperative implicit in its initial charge to “provide guidance to the U.S. Geological Survey on opportunities to improve the NAWQA program.” As the committee was being formed, NAWQA was completing its first decade of extensive nationwide monitoring (called Cycle I) and refining plans for its second decade (Cycle II). Cycle I focused on status assessments (also called occurrence and distribution assessments) that define the condi-
tion of the water resources throughout the nation. Defining status is an important and sometimes daunting task by itself, but Cycle II must now move beyond and build upon these status assessments to begin assessment of water quality trends and to further our scientific understanding of the why and how behind water quality status and trends. These goals are integral to the grand design of NAWQA and largely reflect the charge that policy makers have placed on NAWQA since its inception. As noted in this report, if there are substantive opportunities to improve NAWQA, then this is an ideal time to do so as this new round of monitoring and studies is about to begin.
The members of this committee brought a wide range of water resources expertise and a range of experience in interacting with NAWQA that made for enlivened and enlightening discussion throughout and ultimately led us to the forward-looking recommendations contained herein. Some members have had associations with NAWQA since its very inception, including service on earlier NRC committees’ reviewing NAWQA (which provided institutional memory and perspective); other members were primarily users and consumers of NAWQA data and reports. The committee held five deliberative meetings; at four of these meetings the committee heard presentations from and engaged “in discussions with program scientists and others such as users of NAWQA products,” as required in its statement of task. The committee did so, not just to “conduct an initial assessment of general accomplishments,” but also to gather testimony and insight on where the opportunities existed to improve NAWQA. Throughout the course of the study, committee members personally visited with NAWQA staff, particularly field (study unit) staff; other USGS (non-NAWQA) personnel, other local, state, and federal agency “users” of NAWQA data and information; and other research users, casting a wide net for input to the deliberative process. The committee also collectively reviewed scores of NAWQA-related reports—both as users and to support these deliberations.
The committee thanks several persons external to the USGS who nonetheless provided highly informative and useful presentations regarding their collective experiences with the NAWQA program at the first three committee meetings, including: Margarete Heber, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Emery Cleaves, Maryland Geological Survey; Greg Woodside, Orange County (California) Water District; Karen Schaffer, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; and Jim Reilly, New Jersey Office of State Planning. We would particularly like to thank the USGS NAWQA staff as a whole, particularly Tim Miller, Bill Wilber, Bob Gilliom, and Carol Couch, for answering our many inquiries and requests for reports and documents. The committee also thanks the NRC WSTB staff for their support and leadership. When the study was initiated, Laura Ehlers was the study director. When she had to move to other responsibilities in December 2000, Mark Gibson assumed the study director post. We thank them both for their support and leadership. In particular, we thank Mark for his significant contributions to the report and efforts to bring the study to completion. Ellen
de Guzman, research associate with the WSTB, provided excellent staff support throughout the study. We also thank former committee member Paul Roberts of Stanford University for his past insights and contributions, many of which carried over into this report.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Susan Davies, Maine Department of Environmental Protection; Don Epp, Pennsylvania State University; Daniel Loucks, Cornell University; David Moreau, University of North Carolina; Don Siegel, Syracuse University; Kent Thornton, FTN & Associates; and Robert Ward, Colorado Water Resources Research Institute.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Henry J. Vaux, University of California. Appointed by the National Research Council, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
The committee hopes that this report will help to strengthen NAWQA both as it enters its second decade of nationwide water quality monitoring and assessment and, hopefully, beyond. NAWQA has already become the premier program assessing status and trends of water quality at a national level. Yet the program strives to continue to improve its efficiency, visibility, and above all, utility, which the committee strongly supports and encourages. Scientists, policy makers, and legislative leaders must recognize that identifying and truly understanding water quality status and trends is a long-term undertaking, requiring long-term support. Even when the answers are unexpected or not popular, such programs must be able to count on long-term and adequate support to evaluate the ultimate performance of policy decisions and the effects of society on our important water resources.
GEORGE R. HALLBERG
Chair, Committee to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey
National Water Quality Assessment Program