nation's water quality goals. Under TMDL regulations promulgated in 1992, EPA requires states to list waters that are not meeting water quality criteria set for specific designated uses. For each impaired water, the state must identify the amount by which point and nonpoint sources of pollution must be reduced in order for the waterbody to meet its stated water quality standards. Meeting these requirements, many of which have been imposed by court order or consent decree, has become the most pressing and significant regulatory water quality challenge for the states since passage of the Clean Water Act.
Given the most recent lists of impaired waters submitted to EPA, there are about 21,000 polluted river segments, lakes, and estuaries making up over 300,000 river and shore miles and 5 million lake acres. The number of TMDLs required for these impaired waters is greater than 40,000. Under the 1992 EPA guidance or the terms of lawsuit settlements, most states are required to meet an 8- to 13-year deadline for completion of TMDLs. Budget requirements for the program are staggering as well, with most states claiming that they do not have the personnel and financial resources necessary to assess the condition of their waters, to list waters on 303d, and to develop TMDLs. A March 2000 report of the General Accounting Office (GAO) highlighted the pervasive lack of data at the state level available to set water quality standards, to determine what waters are impaired, and to develop TMDLs.
Subsequent to the GAO report and following issuance by EPA of updated TMDL regulations, Congress requested that the National Research Council (NRC) assess the scientific basis of the TMDL program, including:
the information required to identify sources of pollutant loadings and their respective contributions to water quality impairment,
the information required to allocate reductions in pollutant loadings among sources,
whether such information is available for use by the states and whether such information, if available, is reliable, and
if such information is not available or is not reliable, what methodologies should be used to obtain such information.
Of concern to the nation's lawmakers was the paucity of data and information available to the states to comply with program requirements and meet water quality standards. Indeed, as the TMDL program proceeds, the best available science, especially with regard to nonpoint sources of