In 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey requested that the National Research Council (NRC) review and provide guidance on the direction and priorities of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. This review would include perspective on past accomplishments and the current and future design and scope of the program as it moves into its third decade of water quality assessment (Cycle 3). The NRC has continued that advisory role authoring a letter report on the initial Cycle 3 planning document, the Science Framework (Letter Report Assessing the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program's Science Framework). Based on advice contained in that letter report, input from stakeholders, and additional reflection from the NAWQA Cycle 3 Planning Team, the Science Framework evolved into the Cycle 3 Science Plan. The Science Plan is the high level planning document that will guide the NAWQA program through the next 10 years of water quality monitoring.
The NAWQA program has matured over its two decades and is at a point where it should not simply continue its previous work but should do the dynamic water quality monitoring that is proposed for Cycle 3. This is a compelling plan for the program that the committee strongly supports; in Cycle 3 NAWQA will advance the understanding of the dynamics of water quality change and forecast likely future conditions. The committee supports the Cycle 3 priority of dynamic water quality monitoring. The Science Plan is technically sound and the NAWQA program has the scientific capability to achieve the Science Plan objectives. Yet the concept of dynamic water quality monitoring needs further development in the Science Plan. For example, a strong justification for why dynamic water quality monitoring is important, why now and why the USGS via NAWQA can achieve this remains unwritten. Further defining program outputs and potential outcomes will also help frame the significance of dynamic water quality monitoring. Moreover, thinking through a dynamic, question-driven sampling strategy to execute this concept will serve the program well.