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Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program (2012)

Chapter:5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration

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Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
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5

Coordination, Cooperation,
and Collaboration

In the Science Plan for Cycle 3, the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program put forth an ambitious strategy for continuing to monitor and assess the nation’s freshwater quality and aquatic ecosystems. This plan was a product of NAWQA’s two decades of experience and input from more than 50 stakeholder groups and partners, as well as the National Research Council (NRC). In contrast to Cycles 1 and 2, the Science Plan for Cycle 3 offers a vision that extends beyond NAWQA’s organizational capacity and resources. It offers a vision for the nation and a strategy to address many key national needs, both for and by the many agencies and organizations concerned with water quality—not just NAWQA. This is a vision that the committee strongly supports.

Given the broad scope of the plan and the budget constraints already evident, cooperative, coordinated, and collaborative efforts should play a much greater role to meet many of the needs identified in the Science Plan. (Definitions of these terms as they apply to NAWQA are clarified in Box 5-1.) Although NAWQA should be a leader in motivating the implementation of this national plan, other groups and agencies will need to play leadership roles to accomplish many of the goals and objectives in the Science Plan. The Science Plan for Cycle 3 is a plan for addressing national water-quality needs that deliberately goes beyond what NAWQA can accomplish. The Science Plan could be a framework for other agencies to identify objectives that they can meet as part of their own mission and at the same time support a larger and collective effort to address the nation’s water-quality problems.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
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BOX 5-1

The Use of the Terms Cooperation, Coordination, and Collaboration in this Report

Cooperation, coordination, and collaboration are complementary but distinct activities within the context of the NAWQA program.

• Cooperation: Sharing goals, plans, data, and other information within USGS and with other federal, state, and local agencies as well as stakeholder groups to increase awareness and reduce inter- and intra-agency friction.

• Coordination: In addition to the activities captured in the definition of cooperation, the committee uses “coordination” to mean proactive efforts by NAWQA to work within USGS and with other agencies and partners to ensure compatibility of goals, data gathering, and other program activities. If done well, coordination increases programmatic efficiency and reduces redundancies and conflicts.

• Collaboration: Taking coordination one step further, collaboration implies working together to conceptualize, plan, fund, and implement activities that lead to a larger understanding and programmatic impact that could not have been achieved if NAWQA and its partners acted independently.

The development of the comprehensive Science Plan with the input of the NAWQA National Liaison Committee (NLC), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) personnel, other stakeholders, and this committee (NRC, 2010) is a clear example of the effort NAWQA has successfully put forth to work toward a cooperative, coordinated, and collaborative program. The committee commends NAWQA for its work in this arena and concurs with past reviews of NAWQA (NRC, 2002) and USGS Water Programs (NRC, 2009) that have cited NAWQA as exemplary for its efforts to establish cooperative relationships within USGS and with external stakeholders. There are many examples of such cooperative efforts throughout this report. Such cooperative efforts contribute to program and policy relevance and provide additional opportunities to communicate NAWQA’s broader message of leveraging activities of others.

To successfully implement the Cycle 3 Science Plan, NAWQA will need to place even greater emphasis on collaborative efforts in which it is already engaged. These involve data sharing, interpretive efforts, and even mutual planning. However, NAWQA in Cycle 3 will need to go beyond these existing efforts to establish more active collaboration with external agencies and organizations (e.g., related to budgets and staffing) in which NAWQA and these partners work toward common assessment and other scientific goals. The effort will require a change in approach for parts of NAWQA in order to more fully and directly involve these potential partners and collaborators

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

in the development of science and implementation workplans and budgets, explicitly outlining roles, responsibilities, and accountability.

In this chapter the committee draws out key points related to NAWQA’s cooperative efforts to respond to the Statement of Task:

Identify and assess opportunities for the NAWQA Program to better collaborate with other federal, state, and local government, non-governmental organizations, private industry, and academic stakeholders to assess the nation’s current and emerging water quality issues.

The committee also identifies current and continuing challenges noted in the testimony from various agencies, identified in its deliberations, or heard from NAWQA’s leadership.

Although cooperation, coordination, and collaboration are critical to meeting the goals of Cycle 3, the committee recognizes that these efforts are not as simple as they sound and indeed can be costly and time-consuming when trying to maintain communications among different parties. Difficulties can often arise from overlap or differences in missions that require management time to reconcile. Given resource constraints, partnering with other agencies will almost always be in NAWQA’s interest if at least two conditions are met: (1) the contributions of the entity are methodologically consistent with NAWQA’s analytical standards or some adjustment can be made to account for the lack thereof and (2) the relationship is likely to expand the reach and impact of the program. Obviously, if the transaction costs associated with such partnerships exceeds the financial benefits to the program, NAWQA would be better off declining the opportunity. Keeping this in mind, the committee makes a case for such efforts, seeing value in NAWQA’s ability to leverage greater resources and expertise from external partners to meet the nation’s needs for water-quality assessment and understanding.

NAWQA’S VALUE IN A REORGANIZED USGS:
COOPERATION, COORDINATION, AND COLLABORATION
WITH USGS MISSION AREAS AND PROGRAMS

NAWQA’s scope and success providing a national perspective on the status, trends, and understanding of factors that affect water quality have made the program a visible and respected focal point within the Water Mission Area of the USGS.1 As noted in past reviews (NRC, 2002), many

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1 Other programs and activities within the Water Mission Area include the Groundwater Resources Program, the National Streamflow Information Program, Hydrologic Research and Development, Hydrologic Networks and Analysis, the Cooperative Water Program, and the Water Resources Research Program.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

local, state, and even federal agencies and organizations that had not worked with USGS in the past now regularly promote the use of USGS products and information because of their involvement with NAWQA. As one of the largest water programs within USGS, NAWQA has worked at cooperative efforts within USGS and the Department of the Interior (DOI) since the beginning of the program. Again, past reviews have generally commended these efforts, as well as pointed to areas for improvement (NRC, 2002, 2009). In particular, many reviews have applauded USGS for productive, collaborative symbiosis among field monitoring and research programs such as NAWQA, the National Research Program, and the Toxic Substances Hydrology (“Toxics”) Program. These collaborations have made valuable contributions to the nation in areas such as contaminants of emerging concern and the development and broad implementation of the SPAtially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes (SPARROW) model, as notable examples.

During the course of the committee’s deliberations, and during the time the Science Plan was under development, USGS reorganized to enhance the work of the agency’s science programs. The agency has historically been organized around technical disciplines (e.g., Biology, Geography, Geology, and Hydrology/Water) but has now aligned its leadership and budget structure around interdisciplinary themes or mission areas related to the science strategy “Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges—U.S. Geological Survey in the Decade 2007-2017” (UGSG, 2007). The new mission areas are Ecosystems; Climate and Land-Use Change; Energy and Minerals, and Environmental Health; Natural Hazards; Core Science Systems; and Water. The realignment also created a new Office of Science Quality and Integrity tasked with monitoring and enhancing the quality of USGS science. The 2009 NRC report, Towards a Sustainable and Secure Water Future, pointed out that critical water-related issues occur within most if not all new USGS Science Strategy directions (now mission areas, in the official reorganization) (NRC, 2009). The report noted that approaching these new strategic directions will demand even greater coordination and cooperative efforts throughout USGS.

This committee’s second letter report (Appendix B) provided some initial comments on NAWQA’s possible place in the reorganized USGS. In that initial letter report the committee made comments and recommendations whose main concepts are reiterated here (Box 5-2). Water is now a theme running through several mission areas apart from the Water Mission Area itself—for example, Ecosystems and Climate and Land Use Change.

NAWQA leaders should seek further opportunities for cooperation, coordination, and collaboration within USGS and make a systematic effort to communicate its capabilities and potential value to the relevant programs and offices within USGS through the Science Plan. Also, during the time

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

BOX 5-2

Excerpts from NRC (2010)

“To enhance the work of the agency, the USGS is currently realigning its leadership and budget structure around interdisciplinary themes or mission areas related to the science strategy ‘Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges—U.S. Geological Survey in the Decade 2007-2017’ (UGSG, 2007)…. NAWQA is well positioned to contribute to these mission areas, building on its success in multidisciplinary efforts within the USGS over the last few decades …, but this is not well articulated in the [draft] Science Plan.”

The letter report provided some specific notes:

“A continued relationship between NAWQA and programs in the Ecosystems Mission Area would be valuable to the USGS. NAWQA has integrated ecological components with physical and chemical measurements with the co-location of ecological and water quality sampling sites (NRC, 2009). NAWQA science has enhanced understanding of the effects of urbanization, mercury, and nutrients on stream ecosystems through Topical Studies in Cycle 2. NAWQA is currently developing a ‘data warehouse’ for biological information, in collaboration with other disciplines and programs within the USGS.”

“NAWQA and the Toxic Substances Hydrology program (now part of the Energy and Minerals, and Environmental Health Mission Areas) have a long history of successful, joint collaboration (NRC, 2009; NRC, 2002). The USGS leads the way in identification, tracking, and doing research on emerging contaminants, a role resulting in part from collaboration between the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and NAWQA (Kolpin et al., 2002)….”

“One of NAWQA’s noted accomplishments has been the linkage of land-use to water quality conditions. In Cycle 3, NAWQA proposes enhancing its consideration of climate change issues and water. This could be particularly valuable to and invite important collaborative opportunities with the Climate and Land-Use Change Mission Area. And certainly, NAWQA’s long-standing work in data integration, as well as its experience developing a data warehouse to provide accessible data to other agencies and the public, is relevant to the work of the Core Science Systems mission.”

The committee further noted:

“NAWQA has a history of working in the multidisciplinary, collaborative interface and could serve as a useful resource and model to assist in the realignment of the agency to multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary missions. Although defining collaboration and listing partners is important to NAWQA planning efforts, true collaboration begins with identifying common questions or goals shared with other mission areas and USGS programs. To be effective in this effort the Cycle 3 Science Plan, NAWQA should more clearly identify how its goals are linked to the newly formed USGS mission areas framed from themes in the USGS Science Strategy.”

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

of the committee’s deliberations, the WATERSmart program (an effort formerly referred to as the Water Census under the auspices of USGS; see NRC, 2009) was elevated to a DOI initiative. The WATERSmart program has been proposed to address the critical national need for water availability information, and its elevation may mean that it will receive high-level support for the collaborative effort needed to engage many of the other DOI bureaus. This effort will also require considerable cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies to be successful (National Science and Technology Council, 2007; NRC, 2009). Water availability links water quantity and quality, and NAWQA will obviously be affected by the development and integration of the WATERSmart effort within DOI. NAWQA can be particularly effective in contributing to forecasts of water availability through the program’s ability to relate its assessment of water quality and ecosystem health to changes in land use and land cover, natural and engineered infrastructure, water use, and climate change. Accomplishing this task effectively will require extensive interaction among scientists in the various USGS mission areas. NAWQA could add significant value to federal programs such as WATERSmart where there are important opportunities to address the national need for water-quality information.

During this committee’s deliberations, the newly formed mission areas were developing strategic science plans and implementation plans. Organizational change always creates some disjointedness and dislocations during a transition phase, but the committee is concerned that in the tension of the transition phase, emerging goals for each Mission Area and competition for recognition and resources within USGS and DOI could be temporarily problematic for both NAWQA and the agency at large. For example, the Toxics program, one of NAWQA’s closest collaborators, is now being housed in a separate Mission Area. Although the committee’s second letter report challenged NAWQA leadership to communicate capabilities to the reorganized programs and to seek collaborative opportunities that would help meet the needs of the Science Plan that go beyond NAWQA, it also noted that such communication should be a two-way street. The committee would hope that USGS uses the reorganization to improve internal coordination and potentially leverage NAWQA data and analysis for use in the other program areas. Furthermore, fiscal realities highlight the need to seize these collaborative opportunities within USGS to make the most of these existing resources; the reorganization is a window of opportunity for this to be fully realized. Integration among the new mission areas presents important opportunities to leverage NAWQA activities for the benefit of USGS, the federal government, and the nation.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

COORDINATION AND COOPERATION EFFORTS: NAWQA LIAISON COMMITTEES

Starting with its pilot studies, NAWQA began a particularly successful component with the development of local and national coordination and advisory groups. In establishing individual study unit liaison committees as a key component of NAWQA, USGS recognized the importance of relationship building and obtaining local information and perspectives on water-quality and water resource issues. These efforts fostered various partnerships and activities including local and state use of NAWQA data and SPARROW for Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs); some local, jointly-funded projects (various projects on Source Water Assessments to protect public drinking water systems, such as Vowinkel et al. [1996], Ryker and Williamson [1996], and see USGS [2001]); and other federal efforts (NRC, 2002, 2009).

NAWQA’s National Liaison Committee (NLC)2 provides an ongoing platform for stakeholders to interact with NAWQA. Its purpose is threefold, to:

1) exchange information on findings and about water-resource issues of national and regional interest, 2) identify sources of data and information, and 3) provide feedback on any Program changes, design, and scope of products.3

The committee is composed of approximately 100 participants spanning multiple federal agencies (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA], Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Congressional Research Service, Department of Energy, etc.) and interested groups (American Water Works Association, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, American Rivers, National Association of City and County Health Organizations, Natural Resources Defense Council, etc.).4 The NLC and many of its members offered input during the development of the Science Framework and the Science Plan to ensure that it provided comprehensive national relevance and appropriately captured stakeholder needs (Box 5-3).

The 2002 NRC review of NAWQA recommended that the local and national liaison committees should be continued in Cycle 2 and noted that

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2 See http://acwi.gov/nawqa/index.html.

3 See http://acwi.gov/nawqa/.

4 The NAWQA National Advisory Committee went through various iterations and restructuring, partly under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requirements (see NRC, 2002), to reach its current structure as the National Liaison Committee for NAWQA. It has been formalized under FACA as a subcommittee of the federal Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI).

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

BOX 5-3

The Role of NAWQA’s National Liaison Committee in Cycle 3 Planning

In March 2010, the National Liaison Committee met to discuss planning for Cycle 3. The liaison committee was briefed on a preliminary draft of the Science Plan, which included the leadership vision for Cycle 3 and related science and policy questions the program planned to pursue. The committee was asked if this vision and related questions would meet the nation’s needs in Cycle 3. Liaison committee members expressed strong support for:

• continued assessment of four major issues: excess nutrients, contaminants, sediment, and streamflow alteration;

• the planned rebuilding of the NAWQA status and trends networks in Cycle 3;

• coordinated water programs to leverage existing investments;

• a more robust national reference site network; and

• integration of monitoring, modeling, and understanding studies at multiple scales to forecast water-quality and ecosystem response to large-scale future changes (i.e., climate change and demographic change).

local efforts could be more consistent and perhaps beneficially enhanced. However, the design changes that have taken place during Cycle 2 have forced NAWQA away from the study unit framework to a more regional framework that does not generate the same level of local interest. As a result, there has been a corresponding decrease in study unit liaison committees. Focused topical studies, or understanding studies, have typically held liaison events, but attendance has been more limited compared to Cycle 1 because of the narrower scope of these studies (NAWQA leadership team, personal communication, May 2009). NAWQA’s Major River Basins, Principal Aquifers, and Topical Study teams have also used stakeholder groups to review results and expected program reports and products.

The committee commends these ongoing efforts and encourages their continuance. NAWQA should maintain its interface with the NLC and stakeholder groups, to the extent practical, to maintain these important relationships, thereby further leveraging resources to support collaborative efforts to implement the national Science Plan.

The NRC’s 2002 review of NAWQA, as it prepared for Cycle 2, offered other observations and recommendations on “Cooperation and Coordination Issues” that need not be restated here. Some of the recommendations became moot with design changes, as noted above. Yet NAWQA has made a significant, positive effort to address the key recommendations from NRC (2002), such as continued work on cooperative efforts with the USGS

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

National Research Program, the Toxics program, and the National Stream Quality Accounting Network (NASQAN).

COORDINATION AND COOPERATION WITH EXTERNAL PARTNERS

NAWQA has worked to establish relationships with external partners beyond the NLC. The committee received testimony from many federal agency representatives and other stakeholders that highlighted interactions with and observations of NAWQA. From this dialogue and the committee’s own observations, the committee concludes that NAWQA has done an admirable job of establishing collaborative relationships with other federal agencies and state-local authorities (Chapter 3). NAWQA’s efforts have become critical to the missions of other agencies, and these relationships have strengthened NAWQA and USGS as a whole. NAWQA can use past experiences as models for the future efforts. Some examples follow, from the committee’s assessment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

EPA is one of NAWQA’s most critical partners. During Cycle 1 and part of Cycle 2, USGS placed staff as formal liaisons within several national offices of EPA to enhance coordination. USGS Water Resource Discipline staff liaisons were in residence in EPA’s Office of Water and worked in support of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments of 1996,5 the Clean Water Act,6 and development of water-quality standards and criteria.7 Other USGS staff were in residence in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), helping to provide information and technical support about pesticide occurrence in water, as well as fate and transport perspectives.

These USGS staff liaisons provided EPA with important scientific perspective in technical approaches to water-quality assessments, development of regional nutrient criteria, and identification of contaminants of emerging concern. Most importantly, perhaps, they also provided USGS with important perspectives on EPA’s statutory responsibilities, for example, development of TMDLs and corresponding information needs. These staff liaisons enhanced working relations and led to some jointly funded projects that were complementary to NAWQA efforts (e.g., studies of pesticides in reservoirs used for drinking water). The formal liaisons were productive ac-

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5 The purview of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

6 The purview of the EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds.

7 The purview of EPA’s Office of Science and Technology.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

cording to testimony from agency personnel (NRC, 2009), but these liaison positions were terminated because of resource constraints.

Despite the termination of liaison positions, NAWQA has continued to coordinate with EPA. For example, NAWQA made substantive contributions to EPA’s drinking water program in recent years. The 1996 amendments to the SDWA8 called for EPA to develop new approaches to evaluating contaminants, old and new, that may need to be regulated in drinking water to protect public health. EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water is charged with developing a list of contaminants that may require regulation every 5 years, the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL), and developing a monitoring program, the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Regulation (UCMR). In addition, EPA must determine on a staggered 5-year deadline whether or not chemicals on the CCL warrant developing a regulation (the CCL-Regulatory Determination, or Reg Det process).

A key criterion for listing chemicals on the CCL and for the CCL-Reg Det process is whether the contaminant is known to occur or there is a substantial likelihood that the contaminant will occur in public water systems.9 Data on actual occurrence of unregulated chemicals in finished drinking water are difficult to obtain, and EPA’s authority is limited. The monitoring program (UCMR), for example, is limited in scope to no more than 30 contaminants every 5 years. Hence, NAWQA and USGS’ Toxics program monitoring data have provided important insights on unregulated contaminants in ambient waters and in the source waters for drinking water systems that have been used in the CCL, CCL Reg-Det, and UCMR development processes. In turn, NAWQA has reviewed the CCL as it considered which contaminants to include in its own monitoring schedules. Of particular note, during the past 5 years, EPA implemented a more rigorous process to develop the third CCL (CCL 3) (EPA, 2009a, 2009b; NRC, 2001). NAWQA collaboratively provided EPA with Cycle 1 monitoring data so that EPA could evaluate the data to meet its specific CCL requirements. NAWQA staff have provided technical assistance to EPA programs as well as data for the Six-Year Review of regulated chemicals (EPA, 2009c). Despite this record of success, in testimony EPA representatives called for greater documentation and transparency in the selection of analytes to be monitored by NAWQA.

NAWQA data and cooperation have also contributed to the continuing efforts of EPA to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act. NAWQA occurrence data have been important to the prioritization of contaminants for development of water-quality criteria and aquatic life criteria by the Office

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8 Section 1445(a)(2); see 42 U.S.C. 300.

9 See http://water.epa.gov/scitech/drinkingwater/dws/ccl/ccl3.cfm#overview.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

of Science and Technology (OST) and the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds (OWOW). NAWQA has collaborated with these offices to promote standardized methods to states and other partners to help develop more uniform, comparable national data and to apply the SPARROW model to help identify areas on which to focus nutrient criteria and nutrient controls, as well as with states using these data for TMDL development (see also NRC, 2002).

NAWQA’s national design provides a one-of-a-kind perspective not available in any other monitoring program.

Joseph Beaman, EPA OST, personal communication, September 21, 2009

NAWQA’s data, as well as reviews by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the National Research Council (NRC, 2002), have pointed out that EPA needed additional, different monitoring data to address the agency’s performance. Neither NAWQA’s design nor any other individual monitoring program can meet all needs. NAWQA staff consulted with and assisted EPA to develop its new monitoring approaches for the national Wadeable Stream Survey as part of the National Aquatic Resource Surveys. USGS has helped with planning discussions as well as consultations on site reconnaissance and sample collection, and supplemental data. NAWQA also supports EPA’s Report on the Environment (EPA, 2008) to the Congress and the nation and international reviews of water issues (e.g., Global Water Research Coalition, 2004).

In addition, NAWQA staff and EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) and OWOW have collaborated to combine EPA Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP)10 data with NAWQA data to produce and publish aquatic models. In Cycle 1, NAWQA sampled ecological data at approximately 87 NAWQA sites, which were then augmented with a few hundred EMAP sites. Although the data had been collected with different field methods, researchers were able to develop a model to account for method bias, and the final ecological model was stronger for integrating both data sets (Carlisle and Hawkins 2008). EPA’s ORD is putting resources into developing decision-support tools. Perhaps a specific effort between NAWQA’s SPARROW effort and EPA would yield benefits for both. There has been some coordination between USGS and EPA on the initial planning for Mississippi River water-quality restoration with respect to nutrient loadings. Application of the USGS SPARROW

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10 See http://www.epa.gov/emap/.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

model has been important in this regard, although opportunity for greater partnership between EPA and USGS exists (NRC, 2008b).

EPA’s OPP has had a productive relationship with NAWQA for many years. The OPP uses NAWQA data and technical assistance to characterize the occurrence and trends of pesticides in water as part of risk assessments and implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act.11 The OPP also uses NAWQA data directly in its Government Performance and Review Act, Program Assessment Rating Tool, which measures environmental outcomes of the OPP’s programs. NAWQA has been of particular value because it is an independently derived national data set that can characterize pesticide trends and impacts on water quality (NRC, 2009).

The H. John Heinz III Center for Science,
Economics, and the Environment

NAWQA provides collaborative technical support and data metrics for the State of the Nation’s Ecosystems 2008, authored periodically by the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment (H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, 2008). More than 20 of the Heinz Center ecological indicators were developed and are based on NAWQA data alone. At a public meeting of this committee, a Heinz Center representative speculated that the long-term integrity of USGS water-related data for as many as 25 national environmental indicators would be affected if USGS (NAWQA and the Geography Discipline) was unable to provide consistent data because of budget cuts (R. O’Malley, personal communication, September 21, 2009).

The Heinz Center depends heavily on NAWQA data to support our periodic report: The State of the Nation’s Ecosystems. NAWQA data provide the foundation of our description of chemical contamination—including pesticides and other compounds—both nationally and among different land uses, and for tracking how contaminant levels change over time. We appreciate NAWQA’s strong commitment to making its information and data readily accessible to meet our organization’s needs and to address the Nation’s water-resource information needs.

Robin O’Malley, Heinz Center Senior Fellow and Program Director,

USGS Circular 1291

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11 The Food Quality Protection Act, passed in 1996, is pesticide food safety legislation.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

Coordination and Cooperation with Other Agencies and Programs

NAWQA cooperates with many other agencies, including those in the public health arena. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is collaborating with NAWQA to develop its National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network (EPHTN).12 NAWQA provides water-quality information, particularly related to private drinking water supplies, to the state partners in the EPHTN (Bartholomay et al., 2007). A collaborative effort between NAWQA and the National Cancer Institute (NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health) developed an arsenic model for use in estimating exposure for NCI’s New England Bladder Cancer Study (Ayotte et al., 2006a; Nuckols et al., 2011).13 NAWQA and NCI also conducted an analysis of several locations exhibiting high incidences of cancer, using private-supply water use as a crude exposure term, region-by-region across the United States (Ayotte et al., 2006b). New England showed strong correlations to bladder, kidney, and lung cancer (Nuckols et al., 2011). In cooperation with the New Hampshire Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, part of EPHTN, the USGS New Hampshire— Vermont Water Science Center, with assistance from NAWQA, designed and developed a New Hampshire–specific arsenic model (publication forthcoming, J. Ayotte, personal communication, July 11, 2012).14 This collaborative suite of efforts also involved researchers at the local and state levels, including representatives from Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, the Departments of Health in New Hampshire and Vermont, and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

NAWQA also provides cooperative support (e.g., technical expertise and data for water-quality indicators) to the ongoing development of the National Environmental Status and Trends Indicators project, a federal interagency project chaired by the U.S. Forest Service. The USGS Office of Water Quality, including NAWQA, provides funding and technical support for the National Water Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC). This council consists of local, state, federal, privately funded, and volunteer organizations that “provide a forum to improve the nation’s water quality through partnerships that foster increased understanding and stewardship of our water resources.”15 The NWQMC, with USGS and NAWQA input, have designed the National Monitoring Network for U.S. Coastal Waters

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12 See http://ephtracking.cdc.gov/showHome.action.

13 NCI’s epidemiological New England Bladder Cancer Study examines factors that might be associated with the high incidence of bladder cancer in the New England region.

14 See http://www.nh.gov/epht/.

15 See http://acwi.gov/monitoring/.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

and Tributaries16 that NAWQA supports through its surface water status and trends network.

NAWQA interacts with NOAA and EPA on estuaries and coastal water issues. NAWQA does not monitor and assess coastal waters and estuaries, in part because NOAA has responsibilities for estuaries and has assessment efforts and programs. EPA, in conjunction with NOAA, has established the National Estuary Program17 that protects and restores estuaries of national significance. NAWQA collaborates with both of these agencies on coastal issues, particularly on matters related to growing concerns about eutrophication and hypoxia. NAWQA data provide the measures of nutrient and contaminant loading from upstream contributors into the estuaries. NAWQA has worked collaboratively with NOAA and EPA to apply and adapt models that assess the details of nutrient loading related to land use, management, and climate in major watersheds throughout the country. In particular, NAWQA has adapted and applied SPARROW to provide detailed information on the spatial distribution of sources in the Mississippi River basin that are delivering excess nutrients to the Gulf of Mexico. Based on this work, the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force Action Plan was updated to look at regional targeting of management activities to work toward reducing nutrient loading.

The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS)18 uses NAWQA products to evaluate the interactions between agriculture and water quality, particularly nutrients and pesticides. ERS relies on NAWQA synthesis reports to establish links between agriculture and observed regional water-quality and has adapted data and model coefficients from NAWQA and SPARROW to improve ERS models. These approaches are used by ERS to assess the economic efficiency, environmental effectiveness, and differential spatial and distributional implications of alternative agricultural policies and conservation practices that influence farm management decisions. In turn, ERS can then evaluate the impact of environmental policies and practices to protect water resources on the agricultural sector.

Despite the success of the aforementioned efforts, it has been difficult for NAWQA and USGS to establish significant relationships with NOAA, USDA, and other agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) (NAWQA leadership, personal communication, September 21, 2009). In May 2011, during the committee’s deliberations, NOAA, USACE, and USGS announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “to form an innovative partnership to address America’s growing water re-

___________________

16 See http://acwi.gov/monitoring/network/index.html.

17 See http://water.epa.gov/type/oceb/nep/index.cfm.

18 See http://www.ers.usda.gov/.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

sources challenges.”19 This MOU appears to be a step toward more collaborative approaches, as urged for in this report. Similarly, USDA, EPA, and USGS are collectively working in coordination to implement and monitor projects under the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s “Mississippi River Basin Initiative” to improve water quality in the Mississippi River basin and reduce the impacts of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia. Again, the committee hopes these efforts evolve into a productive cooperation.

The committee encourages USGS and NAWQA to use the new MOU with NOAA and USACE as an opportunity to define areas for cooperation to address key water-quality issues and to continue these and similar efforts, as defined in the Science Plan. For example, collaboration with researchers funded by the National Science Foundation’s STReam Experimental and Observatory Network (STREON) program will enhance the level of understanding achievable when probing levels of nutrient enrichment that initiate ecological impairment (Objective 2c). Collaboration between EPA and NAWQA has yielded significant scientific value (see examples noted above). Maintaining regular contact with EPA’s relevant program directors (e.g., Office of Water and Office of Pesticide Programs) and enhancing the interface with ORD’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Research Program20 would promote this relationship.

THE CHALLENGE AND IMPORTANCE OF LOCAL RELATIONSHIPS

Coordination at the local level has been increasingly challenging given design alterations of the program (both planned and unplanned) as the role of study units has declined. To mitigate the loss of Study Unit Liaisons, NAWQA built stronger relationships with the USGS Water Science Centers during Cycle 2. The Water Science Centers also benefited from the development of projects that originate from efforts at the national perspective. For example, expanding upon the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) national trends activity at the local level, the Water Science Center in Texas developed collaborative projects with the City of Austin, Texas. This effort documented significantly elevated PAH concentrations in residential areas and proposed that the source was coal tar–based sealcoat from parking lots. As a result, an understanding of the role of pavement sealcoat emerged, and the City of Austin banned the use of coal tar in sealcoat in 2006. Research continued to indicate that sealcoat is an important source of PAHs to the

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19 See http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/pdfs/usace_usgs_noaa_signmou.pdf, accessed March 2012.

20 See http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/ord/sswr.html.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

environment, and a variety of actions followed to ban or restrict the use of sealcoat in the United States (Mahler et al., 2012).

The use of ancillary21 data is becoming increasingly critical with the backdrop of dwindling federal resources. The use of ancillary data, when paired with modeling efforts, can extend NAWQA efforts into local areas without a NAWQA presence to bolster national coverage. To illustrate, the use of ancillary data has dramatically increased SPARROW coverage in the southeastern Major River Basin (MRB) (Figure 5-1). Furthermore, SPARROW’s model error was reduced by 25 percent with the addition of these sites (NAWQA leadership, personal communication, October 26, 2010).

COLLABORATION IS ESSENTIAL IN CYCLE 3

In its current model of operations, NAWQA reaches out to other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector (to a lesser degree) to seek their views of program priorities and useful products for decision-makers and the public. To further its program goals, NAWQA has developed some cooperative and collaborative relationships, coordinating data collection and analytical products with other organizations, and in some instances, with other USGS programs. Having noted this, the committee views NAWQA as functioning in Cycles 1 and 2 as primarily a self-contained federal program in which its own staff planned and conducted most elements of the monitoring and national syntheses. True collaboration (Box 5-1) takes this a step further, and is something the committee encourages the program to explore. However, the committee recognizes that collaboration as defined in Box 5-1 is probably more feasible within USGS than with other entities that have different data collection and analysis methods, congressional appropriations committees, and missions.

The Science Plan for Cycle 3 offers a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s needs for understanding water-quality status and trends and for developing the models and analytical methods needed to understand and to forecast changes in water quality in response to changes in demography, land use, and climate. The Cycle 3 Science Plan presents a different vision and an expanded mission from the first two cycles and extends well beyond the capabilities and resources of NAWQA functioning in the largely autonomous mode it has historically used. NAWQA should maintain its interface with the other federal agencies and stakeholder groups and work toward leveraging collaborative resources to meet the needs of the national Science Plan. Quality assurance and quality control, with which NAWQA has

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21 Ancillary data are water-quality data collected by other USGS programs, national, regional, or local efforts on the same water-quality constituents monitored by NAWQA.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

image

FIGURE 5-1 Integration of NAWQA data and ancillary data dramatically improves the spatial coverage of the SPARROW model. Red indicates USGS sites (196 sites), while black indicates state agency sites matched to a USGS gage (586 sites). Only 44 of the total sites shown are NAWQA monitoring sites. SOURCE: NAWQA leadership team, personal communication, May 9, 2009.

experience, will continue to be an issue in all cooperative and collaborative efforts; continued diligence is advised.

The Cycle 3 plan indirectly suggests that NAWQA will need to pay particular attention to its design in preparation for this more ambitious agenda. In the past, NAWQA has revamped its model operations as it has evolved—largely to cope with resource constraints—from the original study unit design to the Major River Basin “building blocks” to maintain a capacity to conduct national assessments. To meet the national needs outlined in the Cycle 3 Science Plan, NAWQA will need to emphasize collaboration in two modes: as a leader that partners with other USGS and external programs, and as a follower with other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×

As part of this approach, NAWQA will need to:

focus on core mission areas where it has unique capabilities, for its own implementation efforts;

leverage resources with other agencies to achieve more of the objectives of the Cycle 3 Science Plan;

foster higher levels of involvement and investment by other agencies;

help others design their own mission-critical programs to meet identified national objectives of the Cycle 3 Science Plan without NAWQA’s direct involvement; and

explore incentives, for example, access to NAWQA technical assistance, which will enable more sharing of effort for data collection, analysis, and technological innovation across the program.

The committee believes that advantages may exist in pursuing this approach. For example, NAWQA has a high concentration of water-quality analysts, and thus it may be able to offer technical assistance at lower cost than partners could procure through hiring or contracting on their own. At the same time, partners may have the capacity to collect field samples at less cost than NAWQA staff by virtue of their proximity to sampling sites and their flexibility to engage labor on an intermittent or part-time basis.

To operate in this more expansive mode, NAWQA should consider engaging partners and collaborators more directly in the development of mutual science plans, seamless exchanges of data and information, and joint implementation of work plans that identify shared responsibilities and accountability. Collaboration could be particularly critical at this point in time given the current fiscal climate and the continued decline of monitoring networks in the United States. Collaboration within USGS could serve as a starting point and a model between NAWQA and others outside USGS. NAWQA authored a forward-thinking comprehensive water-quality strategy for the nation during a climate of strained fiscal resources. This is an opportune time for NAWQA to bring together the federal agencies involved in water-quality monitoring and research and, using the Science Plan as a starting point, to develop a collaborative water-quality strategy for the nation.

Suggested Citation:"5 Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration." National Research Council. 2012. Preparing for the Third Decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13464.
×
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The first two decades of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program have provided a successful and useful assessment of U.S. water-quality conditions, how they have changed over time, and how natural features and human activities have affected those conditions. Now, planning is underway for the third decade (Cycle 3) of the Program outlined in the Science Plan, with challenges including ensuring that the NAWQA remain a national program in the face of declining resources, balancing new activities against long-term studies, and maintaining focus amidst numerous and competing stakeholder demands.

The Science Plan for Cycle 3 articulates a forward-thinking vision for NAWQA science over the next decade, building on the previous cycles' data, experience, and products. Preparing for the Third Decade (Cycle 3) of the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program explains the national needs outlined in the plan, NAWQA's need to emphasize collaboration with other USGS and external programs, other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector.

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