Executive Summary

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has historically been regarded as the primary national source of information on water quantity and quality in the United States, including both surface waters and groundwater. Building on this history, the USGS developed the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program in 1985 to assess past, current, and future water quality conditions and trends in representative river basins and aquifers across the United States. Fundamental to NAWQA’s design was an integrated monitoring network using highly consistent methods. More specifically, the three goals of the program are to address the following: (1) status—description of water quality conditions for a large representative part of the nation’s freshwater resources; (2) trends—assessment of long-term changes in the quality of water resources; and (3) understanding— analysis of how human-related activities, management strategies, and the natural environment interact to control water quality in different parts of the nation. Although the exact wording of these goals has been refined over time, they continue to be the organizing themes for NAWQA’s future.

During its first decade of extensive monitoring (1991 to 2001) known as Cycle I, NAWQA concentrated primarily on gathering comparable information on water quality (“status assessments”) in dozens of geographic areas called study units that include major river basins and/or aquifers nationwide. Perhaps the most important facet of the program is the similar design of each investigation and the use of standardized methods that make comparisons among disparate study units possible. Comparing and analyzing data from individual study units has led to regional and national assessments of water quality, collectively referred to as “national synthesis.”

Nearing completion of Cycle I, USGS scientists are planning for the



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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program Executive Summary The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has historically been regarded as the primary national source of information on water quantity and quality in the United States, including both surface waters and groundwater. Building on this history, the USGS developed the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program in 1985 to assess past, current, and future water quality conditions and trends in representative river basins and aquifers across the United States. Fundamental to NAWQA’s design was an integrated monitoring network using highly consistent methods. More specifically, the three goals of the program are to address the following: (1) status—description of water quality conditions for a large representative part of the nation’s freshwater resources; (2) trends—assessment of long-term changes in the quality of water resources; and (3) understanding— analysis of how human-related activities, management strategies, and the natural environment interact to control water quality in different parts of the nation. Although the exact wording of these goals has been refined over time, they continue to be the organizing themes for NAWQA’s future. During its first decade of extensive monitoring (1991 to 2001) known as Cycle I, NAWQA concentrated primarily on gathering comparable information on water quality (“status assessments”) in dozens of geographic areas called study units that include major river basins and/or aquifers nationwide. Perhaps the most important facet of the program is the similar design of each investigation and the use of standardized methods that make comparisons among disparate study units possible. Comparing and analyzing data from individual study units has led to regional and national assessments of water quality, collectively referred to as “national synthesis.” Nearing completion of Cycle I, USGS scientists are planning for the

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program program’s future and have requested the input of the National Research Council (NRC) to help shape NAWQA activities during the program’s second decade of monitoring, called Cycle II. In this regard, a major concern of the USGS is to maximize program usefulness for a wide variety of decision makers, managers, and planners at all levels of government, as well as nongovernmental organizations, industry, academia, and the public sector. Indeed, data and information from the NAWQA program can be integral to research, monitoring, and regulatory activities at the local, state, and regional levels. In Cycle II, NAWQA will devote more resources to studying trends in water quality and understanding the factors that cause changes in water quality and fewer resources to water quality status assessments that comprised the majority of work in Cycle I. The USGS seeks NRC guidance in planning and executing this ambitious agenda as described by the committee’s statement of task, which is summarized below. The overarching request to the committee was “to provide guidance to the U.S. Geological Survey on opportunities to improve the NAWQA program.” The USGS specifically asked the committee to begin with an initial assessment of the general accomplishments of the NAWQA program to date. Next, it asked the committee to focus on four particular areas of NAWQA as it enters Cycle II: (1) suggest methods to improve understanding of the causative factors affecting water quality conditions; (2) assess whether information produced in the program can be extrapolated to allow inferences about water quality conditions in areas not studied intensely under NAWQA; (3) examine current priority issues (i.e., pesticides, nutrients, volatile organic compounds, trace elements, and ecological synthesis) selected for broad investigation under NAWQA for completeness; and (4) make recommendations on aggregation and presentation of information generated at the study unit scale so that it is meaningful at the regional and national levels. The USGS has sought advice from the NRC throughout the evolution of the NAWQA program. The NRC’s Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) has provided advice to USGS regarding NAWQA four separate times in the past as the program has evolved from an unfunded concept in 1985 to a relatively mature and established program in 2001. The origin and relationship of these four reports and their major conclusions and recommendations are summarized briefly in Chapter 1 of this report. This report was written by the Committee to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program, comprised of 10 (originally 11) experts in hydrology, hydrogeology and geochemistry, water quality monitoring and modeling, aquatic ecology, public health microbiology, environmental economics, and statistics and information technology. The contents, conclusions, and recommendations of this report are based on a review of relevant technical literature, information gathered at and between five committee meetings, and the expertise of committee members. Furthermore, because of space limitations, this Executive Summary includes only the major conclusions and related recommendations of the committee in the

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program general order of their appearance in the report. More detailed conclusions and recommendations can be found within the individual chapters and are summarized at the end of each chapter. Although some of the report’s conclusions and recommendations revisit issues discussed by previous WSTB committees, the majority of the report concerns the increased emphasis in Cycle II on water quality trends and understanding the causative factors of water quality conditions. It is important to state that the structure of this report, unlike many NRC reports, does not directly follow the committee’s statement of task in terms of the order and discussion of major study topics. Rather, the report’s structure, and indeed the committee’s approach to addressing its charge (see Chapter 8 for an explicit summarization of where and how all four statement-of-task issues are addressed in the report), evolved to reflect discussions with NAWQA staff and especially to be consistent with several iterations of the NAWQA Cycle II Implementation Team (NIT) report Study-Unit Design Guidelines for Cycle II of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA)1 that were provided for the committee’s deliberations. As such, different versions of the evolving NIT planning documents (but primarily the November 2000 draft) are cited throughout this report. Indeed, Appendix A of this report includes summaries of all Cycle II goals, themes, and objectives and other important supporting materials extracted from the NIT report. It is also important to state that in presenting such a comprehensive programmatic overview, the committee deemed it necessary to make some general comments about budgets and resources where pertinent to the scope of the proposed changes and additions to the NAWQA program. At the same time this study was proceeding, a different NRC committee was addressing issues important to the mission of the USGS as a whole. That committee’s report, Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey,2 was published during the final deliberations for this report. NAWQA itself is a major program within the Water Resources Division of the USGS, and hence this committee’s assessment of NAWQA is a microcosm of those larger issues. Also, some recommendations in this report likely go beyond NAWQA’s responsibilities and/or capabilities and should be addressed to the broader programs of the USGS. Thus, the committee places its conclusions and recommendations on opportunities to improve NAWQA in the context of that broader report in the hope that it will enhance the utility of both NRC reports. 1   Gilliom, R., et al. 2000. Study-Unit Design Guidelines for Cycle II of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA). U.S. Geological Survey NAWQA Cycle II Implementation Team. Draft for internal review (11/22/2000). Sacramento, Calif.: U.S. Geological Survey. 2   National Research Council. 2001. Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program INITIAL ASSESSMENT OF NAWQA ACCOMPLISHMENTS The committee’s initial assessment of NAWQA and its representative accomplishments to date finds it a mature and respected national program, with hundreds of publications to its credit and many significant science and policy achievements for the program to build upon. NAWQA has produced not only an unprecedented volume of quality data for use in the scientific community, but also unbiased information that is being used by decision makers, managers, and planners at all government levels. NAWQA has also assumed a vital leadership role, helping to improve environmental monitoring in many agencies from federal to local, both by its example and by technical assistance to others. The use of NAWQA information and the linkages that many other organizations continually seek to make with NAWQA are an illustration of the important void that NAWQA has filled in the national scope of water quality investigations. NAWQA is also to be commended for striving for continual improvement and, to this end, has repeatedly asked for review and critical input from various stakeholders, interest groups, and the NRC. Despite their accomplishments and impressive legacy of quality reports, NAWQA staff will be increasingly challenged to plan and execute monitoring in Cycle II because of budgetary constraints. For these reasons, NAWQA must continue to review its efficiency and cost-effectiveness; NAWQA staff will have to apply the lessons learned from their first decade of national monitoring and find new ways to operate effectively. With such continued diligence and improvement, NAWQA should be able to meet the challenges and goals that Congress and the nation have asked of it. TRANSITION FROM CYCLE I TO CYCLE II: REPRESENTATIVENESS OF STUDY UNITS Cycle I of NAWQA set out to accomplish its status, trends, and understanding goals with plans to sample 60 study units (reduced to 59 in 1996) that would cover more than half of the nation’s land area and account for about 70 percent of the nation’s drinking water use.3 However, because of budgetary constraints, a total of eight study units that were slated for monitoring in 1997-2001 of Cycle I were never initiated (see Figure 1-1 and Table 1-1). Thus, Cycle I of NAWQA included a total of 51 study units and the High Plains Regional Ground Water (HPGW) Study, which was initiated in 1999 (see Chapter 1 for an overview of monitoring in Cycle I). Despite cutbacks, a major effort during Cycle I was the compilation and synthesis of study unit data to make inferences about “regional” 3   It is important to note that water quality conditions are not necessarily studied throughout an entire study unit.

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program and “national” water quality. Continuing budget constraints have now dictated that the number of study units in Cycle II be reduced from 59 (for planning purposes) to 42, plus the HPGW study (see Figure 2-1 and Table 2-1). Because of this necessary reduction, issues of representativeness and coverage are even more central to Cycle II of the NAWQA program than they were in Cycle I. Assessing the coverage and representativeness of Cycle II is also fundamental to fully address the crosscutting issues of extrapolation and aggregation raised in the committee’s statement of task. Despite the significant reduction in the number of study units to be monitored in Cycle II, the committee feels that the planned study units will still maintain good coverage of the nation’s stream and groundwater resources. The primary reason is the commendable and iterative use of hydrologic setting regions, coupled with a linear programming approach (LPA) and expert judgment-based semi-quantitative analysis (SQA) to select the reduced number of study units. As a result of this robust approach, collectively the 42 study units planned for Cycle II account for about 40 percent of the nation’s land area, 61 percent of its drinking water use, and 80 percent of the nation’s agricultural land. Nationwide monitoring of lakes, reservoirs, and coastal waters (e.g., estuaries) was specifically excluded from the original NAWQA design. Nevertheless, during Cycle I, certain lakes and reservoirs that provide drinking water and also some lake and reservoir sediments were sampled and analyzed. For this reason and because of limited resources, any Cycle II assessment of lakes and reservoirs will continue to be limited. In addition, although the program has made estimates of chemical fluxes into certain estuaries that are important to other agencies’ programs (e.g., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA]), NAWQA does not specifically assess coastal waters themselves. The committee’s major recommendations concerning the representativeness of the study unit approach to water quality monitoring and assessment for Cycle II are as follows: Maintain sampling in lakes and reservoirs that are important public water supplies, collaborating with other organizations where feasible. Clearly state the geographic extent of any inferences that NAWQA scientists may make. This is critical since the NAWQA title implies a nationwide study, but NAWQA is not a statistical sample. NAWQA needs to clarify the representativeness of Cycle II study units related to major types of land use that can heavily impact water quality, such as mining, forest products, petrochemical, and related industries. ASSESSMENT OF NAWQA CYCLE II GOALS As noted previously, various iterations of the NIT report Study-Unit Design Guidelines for Cycle II of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) were

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program central to much of the committee’s deliberations and are cited frequently throughout this report. Indeed, Chapters 3 to 5 of this report assess the design and implementation strategy for planned investigations in Cycle II study units as related to the continuing program goals of water quality status, trends, and understanding their causes and effects, respectively. Status Assessments The status component of NAWQA is the baseline for all further trend- and understanding-related activities. The various themes, objectives, and contaminants selected for monitoring in Cycle II under the status goal of NAWQA are also fundamental to assess the priority issues selected for national synthesis. As noted previously, the committee was charged to examine the completeness and appropriateness of priority issues already selected for broad investigation under the national synthesis component of the program. The committee supports these existing priority national synthesis topics—pesticides, nutrients, volatile organic compounds, and trace elements—and commends NAWQA for its past work on these important topics. The committee also strongly supports the priority for ecological synthesis that was initiated in the last years of Cycle I. This is also a very important topic to which NAWQA can make a significant contribution. Reflecting the aforementioned broad shift in focus from gathering occurrence and distribution data to better understanding water quality trends and cause-and-effect relationships, the status goal is slated to receive fewer resources in Cycle II than in Cycle I. Nonetheless, several changes in water quality status assessments have been proposed for Cycle II. To support such status work, three status themes—each with two objectives—were planned for Cycle II. In Cycle II, NAWQA personnel have proposed to increase the program’s focus on the most important previously unsampled stream and groundwater resources—especially those that serve as sources of potable water. The committee concurs with this general strategy, as well as that of focusing on those sources most likely to be impacted by extensive urban and agricultural activities. One important question considered by the committee is whether the significant reduction in the number of study units from Cycle I to Cycle II will have a deleterious effect on achieving these first two status themes and their corresponding objectives. To a large extent, the reduction in study units has been mitigated, as previously discussed, by the robust LPA and SQA methods used to select the reduced suite of Cycle II study units. For this reason, the committee feels that these themes are likely to be accomplished in Cycle II. Despite the reduced emphasis on conducting status assessments in Cycle II, the committee is pleased that NAWQA proposes to add some new contaminants that have become high national priorities in the last decade to its list of constituents to be monitored in Cycle II. A number of potential candidates have been suggested for monitoring and were assessed by the committee, including methyl

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program mercury, waterborne microbial pathogens, new pesticides, pharmaceutical products, and high-production-volume (HPV) industrial chemicals. Because of the limited funds available, additions must be limited. The committee provides the following major conclusions and recommendations related to status assessments of water quality in Cycle II: Current sampling in lakes and reservoirs that are important public water supply sources should be maintained; other important lake-reservoir public supply sources should be included if resources become available (this might involve a reassessment of which lakes or reservoirs to sample). The decision about which additional contaminants to study in Cycle II of NAWQA should be made with direct input from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies so that the most important contaminants from a policy-making standpoint can be monitored. The NAWQA team should develop a procedure either jointly or with the direct input of EPA and other agencies whereby all contaminants can be evaluated and/or ranked according to a variety of criteria (e.g., known or suspected health or ecological effects) as part of the decision process for inclusion of new contaminants for monitoring. All three groups of pesticides proposed for monitoring in Cycle II (important organophosphate insecticides and degradates, several sulfonyl urea herbicides, glyphosate) are appropriate and warranted and should be monitored in Cycle II. NAWQA should not add pharmaceuticals or additional HPV industrial chemicals to the list of contaminants to be monitored until reliable sampling protocols and analytical methods can be validated. The committee strongly supports the addition of waterborne pathogens and indicator microorganisms to the list of contaminants that will be monitored in Cycle II. However, NAWQA should reconsider its previously proposed microbiological sampling program4 that includes more detailed sampling (e.g., for both indicator organisms and pathogenic organisms), because waterborne pathogens are of such known importance to human health. NAWQA should make sediment a national synthesis topic (i.e., summarize and synthesize findings on sediment, sediment-related pollutants, and habitat impairment from sediment), and provide implications for the nation that can be used by policy makers to maximize the benefits of state and federal conservation resources. The USGS should expand its internal expertise in sediment monitoring and interpretation to provide a national leadership role for this important area of 4   Described in Francy, D. S., D. N. Myers, and D. R. Helsel. 2000. Microbiological Monitoring for U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4018. Columbus, Ohio: U.S. Geological Survey.

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program water quality research and work with other local, state, and federal agencies to identify and conduct research on important sediment-related issues. Trends and Statistical Support for Understanding The second goal of the NAWQA program, which receives increased emphasis in Cycle II, is the determination of observed trends (or lack of trends) in water quality. The reliable and early detection of trends is of fundamental value because it can provide information on changes in water quality (especially related to anthropogenic sources) that might be useful for decision making and scientific understanding relating to the management of water quality. If trends are detected successfully in a timely fashion, along with a scientific understanding of the cause of those trends, it may be possible to implement management strategies to help reduce future degradation in water quality. To support this type of causal assessment, Cycle II of the NAWQA program has established three themes and six objectives for the determination of trends in the status of water resources and particularly the effects of urbanization and agricultural practices on water quality. Regarding the planned studies on the effects of urbanization and agricultural practices on water quality, the proposed assessments will be conducted as space-for-time studies. In this context, “space for time” implies the use of studies on many watersheds and aquifers in space, all characterized by different levels of urbanization and agricultural management practices. Analysis across many watersheds and aquifers in space, at one time, allows for an evaluation of the effects of urbanization and agricultural management practices that normally evolve over time in an individual watershed. Equivalent long-term sampling would require much greater budgetary commitments and would take far more time to get results; hence the proposed space-for-time studies are creative and efficient alternatives. The committee also notes that many of the topics discussed in the assessment of NAWQA’s plans for its trend goal for Cycle II are pertinent to addressing the committee’s statement of task. This is particularly true for the interrelated issues on extrapolation and aggregation of information at regional and national scales. The committee finds that the USGS and NAWQA are well positioned to carry out the important work of assessing trends in Cycle II. In this regard, NAQWA has established water quality baselines and monitoring networks in the study units in Cycle I and is operating at time and spatial scales sufficient to establish these relationships. Several major recommendations regarding the ability of the Cycle II NAWQA program to meet these trend themes and related objectives are provided below: NAWQA should continue emphasis on an integrated approach to water quality monitoring network design that attempts to coordinate efforts among various local, state, and federal agencies in an effort to make study unit designs as efficient and cost-effective as is possible.

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program NAWQA should develop a generalized quantitative approach to optimize the design of water quality monitoring networks that can be tailored to satisfy relevant NAWQA objectives. If trend evaluations are to be meaningful, they must account for all relevant statistical complexities to enable meaningful conclusions. Without a proper accounting for the spatial correlation of the water quality time series, resultant conclusions regarding trend assessments are likely be flawed. Future NAWQA research should use methods to account for the spatial correlation of water quality time series. NAWQA should continue to emphasize practical and efficient models of the concentration-discharge relationship because such models have applicability to trend assessments as well as many other problems, and it should place greater emphasis on the integration of physical and statistical models because such integrative research should lead to improved and more credible models. The NAWQA Cycle II study design has focused on current land-use conditions and their relationship to stream and groundwater attributes. As data analysis proceeds, attention must also be given to urban watershed management practices and the “legacy” effects of past land use. To assess water quality impacts resulting from agriculture practices, NAWQA should consider studies related to exemplary state water quality protection initiatives (e.g., California’s Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act, Nebraska’s Ground Water Management and Protection Act, North Carolina’s Nutrient Sensitive Waters). Understanding “Understanding” is the last of the three primary goals for the NAWQA program. Understanding can be gained through the linkage of field studies to the analytical use of models, where observations are compared to a conceptual relationship expressed mathematically. The success of such a model in explaining observations is regarded as a measure of understanding the primary factors or mechanisms involved. Conversely, model development and application require understanding. The studies that provide an understanding of contaminant sources and their transport can be viewed as the raw materials for design and development of water quality models. The status and trends networks for Cycle II provide the basis for understanding studies, and therefore the proposed application of models in Cycle II rests firmly on the knowledge gained from Cycle I. Models are developed to provide predictions of water quality conditions both spatially and temporally (i.e., through geographic extrapolation or prediction of conditions). Detailed understanding of contaminant sources and their transport to water resources and an ability to predict future conditions are key to development of efficient management and policies to protect the beneficial uses of the nation’s water resources, including drinking water and viable ecosystems. As NAWQA

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program progresses into Cycle II with an increased emphasis on its understanding goal, the importance of model application, as recommended by previous NRC committees, should not be underestimated. Understanding and prediction, embodied in water quality models, are the cornerstones of water resources management for the future. Several types of models are proposed for application in Cycle II. The committee presents an overview of models, including those categorized as conceptual, mass balance, statistical regression, process based (mechanistic), and hybrids of these. The systematic arrangement of these models in a hierarchy of spatial and temporal scales should be linked to and will advance the development of the Modular Modeling System (see Chapter 5). When more complex models are applied, the focus should be on those that can be parameterized with data. The quantification of uncertainty is important in providing perspective for the interpretation of model results, and this will require some specialized focus within NAWQA. The basic NIT plan is for “targeted studies” to focus on a limited set of the most important water quality topics and for linkage of these field studies with models and other parts of the Cycle II design. Each specific targeted study will be designed and executed by “topical teams,” composed of one or more Cycle II study units, and they will be assisted by a single, national Hydrologic Systems Team (HST) that will provide modeling guidance to the study units. These targeted studies will focus on the major factors that govern water quality. The contaminants studied in Cycle I (e.g., pesticides, nutrients, volatile organic compounds) and the new drinking water source status assessments planned for Cycle II are expected to provide the foundation for targeted study design wherever possible. The six themes with 17 objectives that describe the understanding goal for Cycle II were developed (in the preliminary planning) by categorization of the wide variety of scientific studies proposed by the Cycle II study units. This is the first step in determining where commonalties or synergies between studies exist on a regional or national scale. A greater distillation of this collection of ideas is needed since it does not appear that the objectives have been sufficiently refined and focused. However, the final section of the NIT guidance presents an example for targeted study development by an Agricultural Chemical Source and Transport Team (ASTT) and includes a set of more clearly defined hypotheses for study. It also may be useful to relate the proposed studies and their components to the conceptual “source-transport-receptor” (STR) model presented in the NIT guidance. The STR model could be used to organize a wide range of studies from across the nation to show how they relate to each other and where information may be lacking. It is important that the targeted studies are interpreted in the context of NAWQA’s themes and related objectives for Cycle II so that they may be evaluated in terms of geographic applicability and national priority. At this important juncture in the development of NAWQA, the committee concludes that the USGS has several major opportunities to advance scientific

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program understanding of factors that affect water quality conditions. However, the committee is concerned whether or not sufficient staff, resources, and expertise are allocated to ensure that modeling efforts and targeted studies can be developed and implemented adequately. While the NIT report recognizes the resource problem, its resolution will ultimately govern what can be accomplished in Cycle II. Given these general conclusions from the review of NAWQA plans for the understanding goal in Cycle II, the committee provides the following major recommendations: Conducting mass balances on constituents of concern is a worthy effort in Cycle II. It is strongly recommended that at least a conceptual mass balance be developed for the nonpoint source pollutants studied in each study unit. NAWQA and the USGS should focus on simple, parsimonious process models (i.e., models that are not overparameterized), where parameter estimation and mechanistic expressions can relate to available data. The HST should ensure some uniformity (and/or compatibility) in the use of models and software packages in Cycle II to enable national comparisons and aggregation of data and results. Furthermore, to test research hypotheses, the HST must also address error terms and uncertainty in model selection and application. In this regard, all future NAWQA studies should attempt to evaluate uncertainty associated with all aspects of its water quality modeling evaluations, and the HST should develop a guidance document on this topic. NAWQA should establish a statistical model support team (perhaps as a subgroup within the HST) to provide guidance on the selection and application of the increasingly important modeling tools. This group can build on the USGS’s historical strength and experience in regionalization and extrapolation of streamflow. Also the group should explore and advise on various issues, including more parsimonious and adaptive models, new techniques (e.g., Bayesian), and previously discussed issues such as uncertainty assessment. The process of selecting topics for targeted studies to meet the understanding goal in Cycle II has not yet been clearly defined. The example of the ASTT, however, was well done, presenting clearly defined hypotheses and a focus lacking in other areas. The committee recommends that NAWQA build on this example to develop and refine its targeted study approach. NAWQA must resolve staffing, expertise, and resource issues if the objectives of the understanding goal are to be addressed successfully in Cycle II. It is not clear whether sufficient staff expertise or resources are available for model application and targeted study implementation. For the identification of contaminant sources, when feasible, monitoring programs should employ highly specific or supplementary analyses that permit distinction between different sources of the same contaminant (e.g., ribotyping of microbiological specimens, isotopic analyses of some chemicals). The hyporheic zone, or groundwater-surface water (GW-SW) ecotone, is

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program an important component in understanding surface water quality and near-surface groundwater quality. All appropriate Cycle II study units should endeavor to (1) design a process-based approach to characterize GW-SW interactions and their effects on water quality and (2) use process-based models that can include GW-SW interaction components to delineate the spatial and temporal variations in GW-SW interchange and the concomitant water quality changes. This may mean seeking out collaborators and cooperators to find the needed expertise and study sites, and this should be encouraged as well. Habitat degradation is often argued to be the most significant cause of ecological impairment. Thus, NAWQA should reconsider including studies on the impact of alterations in hydrologic regime and sediment transport in its later-phase Cycle II plans. Although there may not be a specific objective relating to exotic species, data already collected and being analyzed by NAWQA will be valuable for examining questions about their impacts. NAWQA should find ways to encourage this synthesis, perhaps by developing cooperative arrangements within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Invasive Species Program. The USGS’s NAWQA program is in excellent position to make an important contribution to the debate on which biological indices provide the most meaningful assessments of water quality conditions based on results from Cycle I studies. This should be a top priority of the Ecological Synthesis Team. In addition to evaluating different indices, it is critical that the Ecological Synthesis Team explore quantitative relationships and potential threshold responses between biotic indices and other measures of water quality. COMMUNICATING NAWQA DATA AND INFORMATION TO USERS The NAWQA program is first and foremost a provider of information to parties interested in water quality. Although most of the NAWQA budget and effort are devoted to data collection and interpretation, it is the reporting of the program’s findings that is most critical for its widespread use and ultimate success. In this regard, the NAQWA program has generated an impressive amount of information since its inception and has kept the public reasonably well informed of its plans and findings. Both the national synthesis teams and the individual study units are providing useful information on all facets of the program, including sampling design, implementation issues, results, and interpretations. Information is being conveyed through several types of written reports, journal articles, professional papers, digital products, the NAWQA Internet site, and an on-line Data Warehouse. The USGS is taking pains to provide guidelines to NAWQA staff for producing effective reports. Similar guidance would improve the quality of information provided by national synthesis teams and study units through the Internet. NAWQA has recently started using Internet-based “briefing rooms” to convey findings that bear on important water quality issues.

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program This is an effective approach for providing relevant information to policy makers and those interested in water quality issues. Many states are using NAWQA data and findings in developing their resource management programs. This is a strong indication that NAWQA is providing valuable information to those managing water resources. However, the committee finds that NAWQA can improve on the ways it conveys information to policy makers, resource managers, and the public: The USGS and NAWQA need to clearly report in summary fact sheets and on the NAWQA home page changes in the scope of the program and future plans in a timely manner. NAWQA should consider the formation of a distinct information office that would provide additional resources to the important task of timely and efficient information dissemination. This office could also explore innovative strategies for getting information to policy makers, resource managers, and the public. NAWQA should be able answer basic but very important questions about the nation’s water quality such as, Has it improved since the passage of the Clean Water Act? While NAWQA’s ongoing national synthesis work represents an important first step in addressing this type of question, explicit answers could be particularly valuable to Congress, policy makers, resource managers, and the public. Even a prospective discussion of how NAWQA can or will eventually answer such questions in Cycle II would be useful. The NAWQA Leadership Team should continue to work with national synthesis teams and individual study units to maintain and improve the quality of written reports, to ensure that the needs of policy makers are met, and to improve the content and consistency of NAWQA Web sites. NAWQA should expand the use of Internet-based briefing rooms to convey important information, rather than relying exclusively on electronic versions of USGS documents. NAWQA should encourage its staff to continue to publish NAWQA findings in refereed professional journals, where they will receive review from other scientists and broader exposure to the scientific community. COOPERATION AND COORDINATION The national scope of NAWQA and its potential to provide a nationwide perspective on the status, trends, and understanding of factors that affect water quality have made it a focal point within the USGS. Indeed, many local, state, and even federal agencies and organizations, many of which have not worked with the USGS in the past, now regularly promote the use of NAWQA data and information (though sometimes without a full understanding of their inherent limitations and availability). However, the increased use and visibility of NAWQA

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program data and information often occur in conjunction with attempts to influence the design or to cooperate to broaden NAWQA’s coverage. With a program of such scope, cooperation, coordination, and real collaboration with external agencies and organizations (e.g., related to budgets and staffing) should be priorities to optimize the massive data collection, as well as data use and interpretation efforts. Indeed, every chapter of this report includes examples of such cooperative efforts. Through these examples, the committee hopes to address the various cooperation and coordination concerns and issues raised at committee meetings or during interviews and meetings with USGS and NAWQA personnel and others with a vested interest in NAWQA data and information. These examples address both benefits and problems for the program, illustrate typical management challenges, and may identify some new or expanded opportunities for cooperation and collaboration. In the committee’s view, NAWQA program staff have done an excellent job of establishing cooperative relationships within USGS and with external programs. These efforts have strengthened NAWQA and have improved the visibility and viability of the USGS as a whole. Cooperation has costs, however, particularly in staff time to keep effective communications in place. Also, while cooperative efforts are valued, NAWQA cannot be and should not attempt to be all things to all people—or agencies. In this regard, other agencies that want to utilize NAWQA or to coordinate programs with NAWQA also have a responsibility to collaborate fully with the program (i.e., to give, not just take). As large as NAWQA is, its program resources are often too constrained to fully meet its national goals. Continued flat budgets or budget cuts will not allow NAWQA to meet its goals or to provide the information that Congress and other agencies desire without continued design changes and cutbacks. Certainly, programmatic and design changes that can improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of NAWQA are always warranted and should continue to be developed, but providing a national perspective on the nation’s water quality requires adequate support. While Congress must recognize this, other agencies also have to contribute their due support, with staffing, fiscal, or in-kind support where possible, to help cover their unique needs and requests. The USGS must also try to ensure reasonable overhead to keep transaction costs affordable for cooperators. The committee finds that these cooperative efforts have strengthened NAWQA and have improved the visibility and viability of the USGS as a whole. However, in the area of program coordination, the committee offers the following major recommendations: NAWQA must stay firm in its design to meet its national goals, and it should not change critical design plans to meet the diverse needs of the many federal, state, and local agencies. Thus, NAWQA must maintain its careful balancing act to uphold its design principles that draw other agencies to NAWQA, while finding ways to collaborate that build and improve NAWQA. Perhaps

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program more importantly, such collaboration should strive to improve and strengthen other water-related programs to enhance the total knowledge of the nation’s water resources. For the continued success of NAWQA, the USGS must continue to manage the “creative tension” of the joint efforts among its internal programs. Based on the committee’s investigations and deliberations during this study, several potential areas of stress require continuing dialogue: (1) the management problems created by the fluctuation in resources and staffing that occurs between high-intensity and low-intensity monitoring phases of NAWQA should be addressed; (2) district-level staff must fully appreciate the national goals of NAWQA, and likewise NAWQA personnel should listen to implementation concerns from their local expertise; (3) the proposed coordinating committee for NAWQA and the USGS’s National Stream Quality Accounting Network (NASQAN) should be implemented; and (4) NAWQA must continue to recognize and share full and proper credit with its partners. The local study unit and national liaison committees should certainly be continued in Cycle II. NAWQA should consider providing training as well as further information sharing (lessons learned) for study unit teams to make the local liaison efforts more beneficial for USGS and local users. The USGS should continue to foster the use of the good science produced by NAWQA with its state cooperators. Of particular note, USGS scientists should support opportunities to use NAWQA analyses and the SPARROW (Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes) watershed-scale model in the development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). TMDLs, however, are the states’ responsibility. Thus, NAWQA resources and scientists should not be diverted to working on TMDLs beyond the data and technical assistance that they can readily provide to the states. THE FUTURE OF NAWQA The title of this report and the committee’s statement of task clearly indicate issues that will affect the NAWQA program and staff in the future, but they do not fully convey the potential importance of this programmatic review. In the last decade-and-a-half, NAWQA has progressed from a sound concept to a mature program of exemplary quality and importance. NAWQA has led the way to begin the critical, sound scientific assessment of the quality of the nation’s waters. Because of this initial success, NAWQA now carries with it high expectations from many other federal, state, and local agencies, as well as policy makers and legislators. At this juncture, NAWQA is in a critical period as it transitions from Cycle I to Cycle II and as many aspects of the promise of NAWQA must come to fruition. In this regard, the committee hopes that the timing of this review and report can contribute to the future of NAWQA—a future that has clearly become of widespread importance to the nation.

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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program The design and management of NAWQA and its past, present, and future success is an ongoing struggle for program balance, and this is reflected in the committee’s conclusions and recommendations. NAWQA must strive to find the appropriate balance of efforts and resources between its three primary goals of status, trends, and understanding as it enters its second decade of nationwide monitoring. The committee fully expects that NAWQA will continue to exhibit foresight and take a lead in studying emerging water quality issues and contaminants and will avoid expending unwarranted resources on a “contaminant-of-the-day” approach. As another exemplary balance issue, the committee notes the very important contributions that NAWQA can and should make in biological assessments and ecological synthesis in surface waters, yet the committee also strongly recommends that NAWQA not embark on an ecotoxicology program. Furthermore, although NAWQA must strive to be responsive to water quality policy and regulatory needs, it cannot be driven or controlled by these needs— thus epitomizing the struggle of doing “good science” in the public policy arena. In this regard, the committee commends NAWQA for doing an excellent job of balancing good science with policy needs in the face of flat budgets. However, NAWQA supporters, users, policy makers, and Congress itself should be made aware of the fine balancing act that this requires, and they should be supportive of the dilemma that it creates for operating such a program. NAWQA must also balance its work within the context of the agency that provides its charter, the USGS. This committee, and nearly all users of NAWQA with which it has interacted, recommend that NAWQA do more, not less, even amidst the obvious resource constraints faced by the program. NAWQA’s resources have not grown to keep pace with annual inflation, and it has had to redesign significantly for Cycle II. Although NAWQA has done an exemplary job of downsizing to 42 planned study units for Cycle II, it cannot continue to downsize and still be considered a national water quality assessment. Though it could certainly be redesigned, this would likely undo the basis for assessment of trends and would waste a decade or more of effort. To address long-term trends in water quality across the nation, one must recognize the concurrent need for long-term support to allow for consistency in the data gathering and analysis efforts. As discussed throughout this report, the future success of NAWQA is a struggle for balance of resources and scientific endeavors in a water policy environment. Current and future demands already exceed the capacity of NAWQA, but it is hoped that policy makers, politicians, and program managers can strike the necessary balance that will allow NAWQA to continue to provide important water quality data and information for the nation.