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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program 6 Communicating NAWQA Data and Information to Users INTRODUCTION The National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program is first and foremost a provider of information to parties interested in water quality. While most of the NAWQA budget and effort is devoted to data collection and interpretation, it is the reporting of the program’s findings that is most critical for its widespread use and the program’s ultimate success. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is committed to effective and timely communication of findings to managers, planners, and decision makers at all levels of government, environmental and conservation organizations, academia, industry, consulting and engineering firms, and the general public (USGS, 2001). The findings are presented in multiple formats to meet the diverse needs of the many different users, ranging from raw data to methodology, models, technical documents, journal articles, pamphlets, maps, videos, and Internet-based products. This chapter first presents the types of information that are being produced at the national level and by individual study units. Next, methods for communicating results are assessed, including the findings of two separate outside evaluations of the effectiveness of NAWQA publications. The chapter then assesses how well NAWQA is doing to provide information that is useful to policy makers—a critical audience for its findings. The chapter concludes with recommendations on how NAWQA can improve the ways it conveys data and especially information.
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program INFORMATION COMMUNICATED BY NAWQA The NAWQA program is generating a tremendous amount of information that is of interest to researchers, resource management and regulatory agencies, and the general public. NAWQA reports, databases, and other digital products cover the entire breadth of the program, including conception, design, sampling and analysis protocols, findings, and interpretations. NAWQA information is also communicated to a wide audience, including the general public, resource managers, and other scientists. For this assessment the committee categorizes NAWQA information in two ways: (1) information coming from the national (headquarters) level and (2) information coming from individual study units. National Overall, the committee finds that NAWQA is doing a good job of providing information on most aspects of the program. Information on the program has been released through USGS publications and Internet products. The USGS has produced publications on the philosophy and concepts of NAWQA (Cohen et al., 1988; Hirsch et al., 1988, 2001), providing readers with its ideas about the importance of such a national monitoring program and how it might be carried out. The USGS extensively reported on the initial design and strategy of NAWQA (Gilliom et al., 1995; Leahy and Wilber, 1991; Leahy et al., 1990) and on protocols for collecting and analyzing data (e.g., Crawford and Luoma, 1992; Cuffney et al., 1993; Fitzpatrick et al., 1998; Koterba et al., 1995; Meador et al., 1993; Shelton, 1994). NAWQA has developed and made available a number of data products, including data on groundwater, surface water, bed sediment, and animal tissue tests. As NAWQA looks ahead to the next decade (Cycle II) of the program, it has released strategic guidance and associated recommendations for where the program may go through its internal NAWQA Planning Team (NPT; Mallard et al., 1999). The NAWQA Cycle II Implementation Team (NIT) reviewed the NPT report and subsequently published Study-Unit Design Guidelines for Cycle II of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) (Gilliom et al., 2000). The purpose of this NIT report is to describe the design and implementation strategy for Cycle II investigations in NAWQA study units. One shortcoming of NAWQA information is that necessary changes to the program forced by budget constraints were not fully or clearly reported during the first cycle of studies. The reasoning behind decisions to delay or discontinue study units has not been well documented, nor have changes in priorities for national synthesis studies. Using NAWQA publications solely, it can be difficult to track changes in the number of study units between 1991 and 2000. That is, of 60 study units planned for Cycle I, 2 were later merged to reduce the number of study units to 59, which often appears in NAWQA reports. However, because of budgetary constraints, eight study units that were slated for monitoring in 1997-
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program 2001 were never initiated. Thus, Cycle I of NAWQA included a total of 51 study units and the High Plains Regional Ground Water Study that was initiated in 1999 (see Chapters 1 and 2 and Figure 1-1 for further information). Such information is available from NAWQA management but has not always been clearly conveyed. One of the principal responsibilities of the national NAWQA office is to conduct national synthesis studies and release the findings to a wide audience, including researchers, policy makers, resource managers, and the general public. Current synthesis topics include nutrients, pesticides, volatile organics, trace elements, and stream ecology (ecological synthesis). These summary studies are an important source of information for policy makers designing national programs. The committee finds that NAWQA has done a good job to date of providing information on its national synthesis activities. The national synthesis teams provide information on program design (e.g., Gilliom et al., 1995; Halde et al., 1999; Lopes and Price, 1997; Mueller et al., 1997) and evaluation methods for comparing results across disparate study units (Gilliom et al., 1998; Nolan, 1998; Smith et al., 1997). Initial findings have been reported (Focazio et al, 1999; Goodbred et al., 1996; Larson et al., 1999; Martin et al., 1999; Mueller et al., 1995), as well as summary reports that tie study unit-level findings together (Barbash et al., 1999; Francy et al., 2000; Fuhrer et al., 1999; Nolan and Ruddy, 1996). The USGS and NAWQA have a high-quality program for disseminating information on collected data, including field measurements and associated quality control characteristics. The NAWQA Data Warehouse (http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/data) contains chemical, biological, and physical water quality data from all the study units, as well as site, basin, well, and network characteristics (USGS, 2001). The nationally consistent, high-quality field data provide a foundation upon which a data dissemination program builds. NAWQA has taken an active position in organizing its compiled and generated data and making it available to the public. This is the largest readily accessible water quality data set representing samples collected nationwide with consistent study design and protocols (USGS, 2001). Public access to the NAWQA Data Warehouse is currently available through an Oracle database reached via the NAWQA Internet site. The user can make four types of queries: groundwater, surface water, mixed (ground- and surface water), and animal tissue. Information can be requested on location of samples (state, county, study unit, basin, well), chemical concentrations (500 chemical constituents), land use, daily streamflow, and groundwater levels. All the data have undergone an internal USGS quality review, and output can be produced in a variety of formats. As of May 30, 2001, data from the first 36 study units were available. Data from the 15 Cycle I study units initiated in 1997 will be added later. Further information on the Data Warehouse is presented below.
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program Study Units Each study unit is responsible for providing information on its research strategy and results. Study unit outputs describe the physical and hydrologic characteristics of the watershed, sampling design, implementation issues, results, and interpretation of findings. Many of them also provide a context for their research by identifying water quality issues that affect the entire watershed. The range of topics covered by study unit reports and other products exceeds that coming from NAWQA headquarters, simply because of the number and diversity of study unit characteristics and their individual issues, such as the impact of riparian buffers on reducing nutrient loads to groundwater in the Albemarle-Pamlico Drainages Study Unit (Spruill, 2000); the relationship between riparian cover and fish community composition in the Upper Mississippi River Basin Study Unit (Hanson, 2000); the ability of local wetlands to degrade pesticides in the Central Nebraska Basins Study Unit (Lee et al., 1995); and the impact of burley tobacco production on groundwater quality in the Upper Tennessee River Study Unit (Johnson and Connell, 2001). Several study units produced reports on the status and trends of sediment in surface waters, including the Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Drainages Study Unit (Myers and Metzker, 2000), Apalachicola-Chatahoochee-Flint River Basins Study Unit (Frick and Buell, 1999), and Central Columbia Plateau Study Unit (Ebbert and Kim, 1998). Nutrients and sediment contained in snowmelt were studied and reported by the Upper Mississippi River Basin Study Unit (Fallon and McNellis, 2000). Data products from the Cycle I study units are available either through the central Data Warehouse or, in some cases, directly from the study units. One issue that has been raised by researchers interested in using NAWQA study unit data is their availability and timeliness. In this regard, the committee recommends an improved procedure for releasing provisional data, particularly to collaborators, because duplicate data have been collected when researchers did not know that NAWQA already had similar data or when they could not readily access it. METHODS OF COMMUNICATING RESULTS The NAWQA program conveys information in a number of ways. Most of it is in the form of published reports and journal articles. A second but very important method that is being increasingly used by NAWQA is the Internet. Publications The USGS places great importance on reporting information about programs through traditional, written publications. “The written report is the principal product of the Water Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey. What-
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program ever the medium for disseminating and archiving the report—paper copy, diskette, CD-ROM, or on-line—much of the speed and economy of technological advances will be wasted unless the author’s initial efforts result in a technically accurate, clear, and timely document” (USGS, 1995). The NAWQA program has made an effort to ensure that publications provide useful information to the various target audiences, which include the general public, policy makers, and scientists. NAWQA has emphasized getting publications released in a timely manner. NAWQA findings are reported in four types of USGS publications. First, Open File Reports (OFRs) are manuscripts, maps, and other materials made available for public use, generally while the material is being prepared for a more formal report. Second, Water-Resources Investigations and Reports (WRIRs) contain hydrologic information, mainly of local interest. As such, they generally are intended for quick release and contain more interpretation and analysis of data than OFR (although many OFRs also contain interpretation of data). Third, circulars contain technical or nontechnical information of popular interest, including timely administrative or scientific information. These reports generally receive broad distribution. For example, study unit summary reports and the major national synthesis reports are released as circulars. Lastly, fact sheets are very abbreviated publications that summarize research and investigations or provide details about particular USGS activities. They are used principally to get information out quickly while more detailed and formal reports are prepared. Thus, fact sheets are not intended as the sole publication for reporting findings. A very noteworthy achievement of the NAWQA program is that as of February 26, 2001, nearly 1,000 publications and data products have been released. These include 800 reports on the findings from study unit investigations; 139 TABLE 6-1 Summary of NAWQA Publications by Type Through February 2001 Scope and Primary Contents of Reports Circulars Fact Sheets Open-File Reports Water-Resources Investigation Digital Reports Findings from study unit investigations 33 151 149 265 Findings from national synthesis 4 18 12 18 Technical documentation of study design, field protocols, and methods comparisons 1 — 20 6 National-level general interest and outreach 1 1 7 — Subtotal by publication type 39 170 188 289
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program reports on the findings of national synthesis teams; and 34 reports documenting study design, field protocols, and methods comparisons. Of these, 39 reports have been released as NAWQA circulars, 170 as fact sheets, 188 as OFRs, and 289 as WRIRs (see Table 6-1). In addition, seven digital products have been released. The large number of WRIRs is an indication of the extent to which the USGS is interpreting data and results, often in ways that are useful for assisting policy makers and resource managers. However, all of the circulars and many of the OFRs also contain interpretation. All USGS NAWQA publications must receive adequate technical peer review. Technical review of USGS publications may include external reviewers. This is not a requirement, but external review is commonly sought when the technical experts for a particular topic are “outside” the USGS (William Wilber, USGS, personal communication, 2001). In this regard, NAWQA has generated a large number of articles appearing in refereed professional journals. These publications provide a means for professional scrutiny of the methods and interpretations of NAWQA research. The NAWQA program is one of the first examples of an overall trend at USGS to make greater use of professional journals for reporting research. Such outlets provide a means of reaching a wider variety of audiences and a way for USGS scientists to receive greater recognition by scientific peers. The USGS has sponsored two studies of the effectiveness of NAWQA publications. Booz-Allen & Hamilton (BAH, 1999), a management and technology consulting firm, used focus groups to obtain customer feedback on the 1991 study unit reports (all circulars), while the now-defunct National Advisory Council (see Chapters 1 and 7 for further information) conducted a more general review of NAWQA publications (Bird, 1997). Digital (CDs) Conference Proceeding Papers Journal Articles Books, Chapters Newsletters Other (Professional Paper, Hydro Atlas, Thesis, Pamphlet, Web site) Subtotal by Category 4 64 112 4 8 10 800 3 18 59 5 — 2 139 — 3 3 1 — — 34 — 4 9 — — — 22 7 89 183 10 8 12 995
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program The study unit reports summarize the major findings that emerged during the first three years of water quality assessments in Cycle I. The reports are intended primarily for those involved in water resource management (policy makers and managers). Ideally, the reports address concerns raised by regulators, water utility managers, industry representatives, and other scientists, engineers, public officials, and members of stakeholder groups. The focus groups employed by BAH concluded that the reports are generally well written and organized, make effective use of graphics, and are effective in reporting the results in a way that is useful to the reader (BAH, 1999). In particular, they found that information is presented in a context relevant to policy makers and resource managers. Suggested improvements included more references to other sources of information relevant to policy makers and resource managers; greater coverage of water quality issues unique to individual study units; data and documentation made available on the Internet; and more explanation of future research plans. NAWQA’s defunct National Advisory Council (NAC) convened a committee to conduct a summary evaluation of NAWQA publications (primarily fact sheets and circulars for policy makers). That committee, comprised of representatives of several federal agencies that used NAWQA information, environmental groups, and farm and industry groups, assessed the readability, relevance, and usefulness of publications for a policy audience. The NAC committee concluded that NAWQA was producing publications that generally provided sound scientific findings to water quality decision makers. It also concluded that the quality reflected efforts of NAWQA staff to make publications suitable for a policy audience. This is a noteworthy achievement given the USGS’s history of writing for a more technical audience. The NAC committee recommended that NAWQA demonstrate its commitment to further policy development and implementation by creating a series of publications geared specifically to meeting policy makers’ needs for information. It also recommended that NAWQA prepare guidance for study unit and national synthesis staff to assist them in developing and writing effective publications for a policy audience. At present, NAWQA has not yet created a separate series of reports for policy makers but has made an effort to incorporate policy-relevant interpretations into its publications, as described in the next section of this chapter. The findings of the NAC committee were distributed to all Cycle I study units. The emphasis on producing timely, succinct fact sheets is partly in response to this need. Furthermore, the NAWQA Leadership Team, along with other staff, work with study unit and national synthesis personnel on an ongoing basis to provide guidance to authors on such issues (William Wilber, USGS, personal communication, 2001). NAWQA currently has an information coordinator for overseeing the distribution of publications to appropriate audiences. Furthermore, a contractor coordinates with the National Liaison Committee and the information coordinator to assist in the development of focused publications that best serve the different
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program audiences. Part of this coordination is helping customers use the information most effectively. However, NAWQA may want to 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 Congress, resource managers, and the public. Internet-Based Products The NAWQA Internet site (http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/) is fairly easy to navigate and provides a wealth of information. The home page provides a description of the program with pertinent links to its key components, including study units, national syntheses, publications, data, and map products. A “What’s New” link provides access to new publications and important updates on program-related information. The home page also provides links to other programs within the USGS that provide information on water resources, and to other federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and U.S. Department of the Interior. Many of the publications produced by NAWQA headquarters, synthesis teams, and study units are available on the Web as downloadable Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files. In addition, national monitoring data sets and other information from the study units contained in the Data Warehouse are accessible from the Internet (http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/data), along with instructions for their use. The interface for selecting data to download from the Data Warehouse is straightforward and easy to use. Data are available in a variety of formats to facilitate processing in an array of statistical or spreadsheet programs that enable users to independently evaluate questions about water quality that might not have been addressed by NAWQA personnel or otherwise reported. However, it is important to note that the NAWQA Web site has some weaknesses. Keeping key Web pages current is a problem with any Web site, and NAWQA is not an exception. A noteworthy example of this is that the overview of the NAWQA program (http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/NAWQA.OFR94-70.html) is very outdated, based on a 1994 report that still refers to 60 study units, rather than the 51 that were actually initiated in Cycle I. (The committee notes that this persistent oversight was recently rectified in a consistent manner.) It also does not appear that the home page provides contact information to the NAWQA Leadership Team. As discussed previously, the USGS tends to rely on published reports to describe key components and findings of its various programs. Although these reports may be available to the general public, they are often not the most efficient way to provide information to increasing numbers of “Web surfers.” The PDF format used for most documents does not allow for much interactive contact with the viewer, nor does it allow for the use of embedded links to other Internet sites.
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program A new feature of NAWQA’s Internet site that appeared as this report was being finalized is a series of topic-driven briefing rooms describing some important findings of the program that might be relevant for policy makers or others interested in water quality issues. Although some of the links on the pages do not work, this is an effective approach for conveying important information to a wide audience. Links to published reports available on the Internet could be included to a greater degree to provide additional details for those interested in more information. An example of this approach is the USDA’s Economic Research Service Web site (http://www.ers.usda.gov). Each of the national synthesis teams has its own Web site that is accessible from the NAWQA home page. These currently include Nutrients, Pesticides, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and Trace Elements. Ecological Synthesis (still called “Aquatic Ecology”) will be a future Web site. Each Web site has a very different look. The committee feels that all of the synthesis sites should include reasons for the topic (water quality issues), research strategy, important findings, bibliography, team contacts, data, and links to related sites. However, the Nutrients Web site is the only one to contain an easily accessible overview of why national research on nutrients is important. All sites contain a bibliography and a section of important findings or special topics, and all but Trace Elements contains a description of the research strategy. The Pesticides and Nutrients sites provide information on team members and how to contact them. The VOC site contains only information on the team leader, and Trace Elements provides no information on team members. Although all of the synthesis Web sites contain links to similar or related research, some could be made more comprehensive. For example, the Nutrient Synthesis site does not contain links to EPA. Links to EPA sites covering nutrient standards development and guidance, water quality inventory, total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), and animal waste regulations would be helpful for viewers attempting to put NAWQA findings in context. The VOC site only contains links pertaining to the gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). All synthesis Web sites provide links for accessing NAWQA and other data. Most provide direct links to data for constituents related to the site. However, the VOC site provides a link only to the NAWQA Data Warehouse, and the user is left to create his or her own queries for VOC data. The synthesis page also contains a link to the SPARROW (Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes) Web site. As discussed elsewhere in this report, SPARROW is a surface water quality model that was developed by USGS researchers outside the NAWQA Program but has become a tool often used by study units and national synthesis teams. The SPARROW Web site provides reports and articles describing the development and use of the model, examples of application at the national and watershed levels, and links to the databases used in the model. This Web site is an example of how other analytic tools developed by the NAWQA program might be displayed.
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program All Cycle I study units currently have or will have a Web site for conveying information about their research and findings. Each has its own look, and there is wide variation in the amount and type of information provided. The committee recommends that all (Cycle II) study unit Web sites provide easy access to the following information: description of the study unit, important water quality issues, study design, publications (as many on-line as possible), important findings, contacts, data, and links to relevant Web sites within and external to USGS-NAWQA. Although most of this information can eventually be found on all study unit sites, quite a bit of searching is often required for some of it. For example, browsing through the bibliography to find information on a particular topic is an unsatisfactory approach for providing important or basic information on a Web site. Each site should have links from the home page to important study unit information. As noted previously, this may mean putting together briefing rooms or other features that do not rely solely on published USGS documents. Guidance from the NAWQA Leadership Team on presenting information through the Internet would benefit the study units, just as guidance has resulted in more effective study unit reports. The functionality of the Data Warehouse download interface is sometimes impaired by software problems. However, specific problems are well broadcast on the Data Warehouse main page. Moreover, highly capable and very helpful USGS staff promptly respond to help requests through the e-mail contacts posted on the site. These staff ensure that site users obtain the data they are seeking. POLICY RELEVANCE OF NAWQA Information on water quality and its various dimensions is crucial for the development of effective conservation and land and water management policies in the United States. A good example is the TMDL program, where good information on water quality and sources of contaminants is vital (see Chapter 7). Policy makers need scientifically sound water quality information to answer the following questions: What is the nature of the problem? What is the extent of the problem? Who is affected? What are the causes and sources of observed water quality impairments? How is the situation expected to change in the future with and without action? Are current government and private actions adequate to address the issue or problem? Is more research needed before programs and regulations are developed and implemented? How effective have past actions been?
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program Despite these needs, information has not been available to answer some fundamental questions about water quality. At the time of the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, it was relatively easy to identify water quality problems because they were so acute. Many urban rivers were visibly impaired, the Cuyahoga even catching fire. As these problems were addressed through the Clean Water Act and other relevant regulations and policies, it became increasingly difficult to determine which waters remained threatened or impaired and what types of water quality policies were needed. The Clean Water Act set ambitious goals for national water quality, but no scientifically defensible means existed to efficiently guide the billions of dollars in public and private funds being spent on water treatment or best management practices or to determine progress toward achieving those goals. Programs designed to report on the status of the nation’s water resources lacked consistency in the data collected, and sampling frameworks were not suitable for capturing the impacts of some important types of pollution, including pollution from nonpoint sources (Knopman and Smith, 1993; Leahy, 1992). In addition, the reasons or explanations for ambient conditions were not generally integrated with monitoring, so the specific causes of measured impairments could not be efficiently addressed. A 1990 General Accounting Office (GAO) report found that “important monitoring data are missing on both the scope and impacts of nonpoint source pollution and on the effectiveness of potential solutions” (GAO, 1990). A more recent GAO (2000) report echoed the same conclusion, that states have few of the data they need to effectively manage their water quality activities. This latter report also specifically identifies NAWQA as a source of information for EPA to use in evaluating national water quality conditions. To a large degree, the NAWQA program was designed to provide policy makers with better information than was previously available. The primary goals of NAWQA—to measure the status of water quality, to identify trends, and to establish causes of observed quality—provide policy makers with the means to target programs to water resources that are impaired or threatened and to track the progress of those programs. Furthermore, NAWQA stresses quality in monitoring and interpretation. With information developed by the NAWQA program, policy makers should feel more confident about designing programs for achieving water quality goals. Not only are water quality impairments identified, but often the causes of those impairments are identified as well. The value of this information is readily seen in the ability to target policy responses to specific water quality problems. For example, rather than banning a pesticide from general use because it can impair water quality, it should be possible to target policies to protect particularly vulnerable areas. Ribaudo and Bouzaher (1994) demonstrated that such policies are more efficient than widespread bans. Collecting scientifically sound water quality and ancillary data is important, but such information often has to be interpreted and conveyed to policy makers for it to be useful. At the time the NAWQA Program was initiated in the early
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program 1990s, USGS scientists did not generally write reports for a policy audience. In an era of tight budgets and intense competition for funds, presenting interpretations relevant to policy makers (and budget makers) became of prime importance. As noted earlier in this chapter, NAWQA is currently providing a wealth of information on the status of water quality in the Cycle I study units through a variety of internal publications and professional outlets. While many of the publications are targeted toward a technical audience, others are targeted toward policy makers and the general public. Publications are useful for policy makers if they are issue oriented (centered around policy questions and options), direct (stating clearly what was discovered, why it is important, and how it is related to policy decisions), credible (including sufficient factual support for the findings and conclusions to be persuasive), and presented in context (providing enough information about related resource and policy factors that would be considered in a policy decision). Whereas national policy makers require a synthesis of information from local studies, augmented by specific examples of conditions in various settings around the country, local policy makers rely more on information concerning specific geographic areas. The report Nutrients in the Nation’s Waters: Identifying Problems and Progress (Graffy et al., 1996) aptly demonstrated that NAWQA is aware of the policy relevance of the program. This brief report outlines the water quality issue concerning nutrients, provides some geographic dimensions of the issues, and describes how NAWQA will address the issues through its research and analysis. While not providing a great deal of information, this report demonstrates to the public that the USGS and NAWQA are conducting research that can answer questions about real water quality problems affecting people’s lives. Individual study units produce research reports on a variety of issues and for a variety of audiences. The study units are using a consistent format to produce reports that provide information suitable for local policy makers and resource managers. Three representative examples are the water quality reports for the Central Columbia Plateau (Williamson et al., 1998), the Potomac River Basin (Ator et al., 1998), and the Long Island-New Jersey Coastal Drainages (Ayers et al., 2000). All three reports are very effective in summarizing the important findings in a policy context. The reports provide enough detail to establish the credibility of the science that stands behind the findings. The reports make extensive use of maps, charts, and tables to greatly enhance their effectiveness. Each report provides a summary of important findings at the beginning, making it easier for policy makers to find important information. The Long Island-New Jersey report goes a step further and includes a section devoted to implications for managing water and ecological resources. All 36 of the study units started in 1991 and 1994 of Cycle I have produced or are close to completing similar reports (USGS, 2001). The NAWQA national synthesis reports have done an effective job of taking study unit findings, combining them with other relevant information, and pre-
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program senting results in a national context. For example, the synthesis of data on nutrients and pesticides in water resources found in the report The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters: Nutrients and Pesticides (USGS, 1999) provides a better indication of the nature of the problem, its geographic extent, and policy relevance than assessments in EPA’s Water Quality Inventory (EPA, 2000) summarized from state reports. Policy makers and analysts seeking more detailed information can turn to other synthesis reports, including Pesticides in Streams of the United States—Initial Results from the National Water-Quality Assessment Program (Larson et al., 1999), Distribution of Major Herbicides in Ground Water of the United States (Barbash et al., 1999), and Nutrients in Ground Water and Surface Water of the United States—An Analysis of Data Through 1992 (Mueller et al., 1995). All three of these reports provide information on the temporal dimension of water quality, which has an important bearing on the development of efficient water quality policies and is generally not reported in EPA water quality reports. The value of the national synthesis reports will increase as additional information from the second and third rounds of the Cycle I study units are added to the analyses. As discussed in Chapter 1, an excellent example of how NAWQA data can be used to assess pollution control policies is the report Review of Phosphorus Control Measures in the United States and Their Effects on Water Quality (Litke, 1999). Historical data on phosphorus loads to the environment in NAWQA study units were successfully related to federal and state water quality policies for reducing phosphorus pollution from point and nonpoint sources. The report also identifies additional areas of research where NAWQA data might be used to address questions associated with the effects of pollution control policies on phosphorus. An example of how USGS can provide policy-relevant information in response to new information is the response to the recent National Research Council (NRC, 1999) report recommendation that EPA lower the standard for arsenic in drinking water. The USGS examined data on arsenic in groundwater resources throughout the United States and identified regions where ambient (natural) concentrations of arsenic exceed possible new standards. The findings were made public through a press release, fact sheet (Welch et al., 2000), and Water-Resources Investigations Report (Focazio et al., 1999). While not an effort associated directly with NAWQA, it demonstrates that the USGS has the ability to quickly provide policy makers with information that can help them make informed decisions. These findings were provided to EPA and are being used as part of the assessment of the impact of changing the arsenic standard. An important step in making research policy relevant is finding out what information policy makers and resource managers need to develop or implement policies. NAWQA uses its liaisons in EPA and other agencies (see Chapter 7) to see that important information is getting to the right people and to identify policy issues to which NAWQA synthesis teams and study units might contribute. Con-
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program gressional and agency briefings are arranged through the NAWQA Leadership Team when important findings come to light. This approach was used effectively for the widespread findings of MTBE in groundwater. A basic but very important question that could be asked about the nation’s water quality is, Has it improved since the passage of the Clean Water Act? NAWQA is addressing important aspects of this question through its ongoing national synthesis work, but a direct discussion and explicit answer to this question 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 this type of question in Cycle II would be useful. NAWQA: Assisting Resource Managers There are numerous examples of how NAWQA can or already has assisted federal and state water resource managers. As discussed earlier (see also Chapter 7), reviews by the GAO and others have noted that many states would benefit from using all available USGS information on water quality in fulfilling their reporting requirements under Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act. Many of the differences in water quality conditions reported between states in the Water Quality Inventory are related different criteria set by each state and different methods used to characterize water quality, rather than to actual differences in water quality. At least 16 states are using NAWQA data in developing their 305(b) reports (USGS, 2001; Tim Miller, USGS, personal communication, 2001). Other states are not using their NAWQA data, but some states have very few NAWQA data to use. NAWQA was not designed to answer 305(b) questions everywhere, but it can provide important data in the study unit areas. As discussed in Chapter 7, NAWQA data can also provide direct support for requirements of the amended Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act. Both acts require knowledge of contaminant occurrence and distribution for risk assessments and pesticide re-registration. An example of how NAWQA has influenced water policy is the current widespread concern over MTBE in groundwater. Synthesis reports summarizing NAWQA findings of MTBE in groundwater began coming out in 1995 (Squillace et al., 1995). These initial reports and subsequent information provided to EPA by the USGS and other agencies have resulted in the recent move by EPA to ban MTBE for use as a fuel additive. Some states are using NAWQA data and procedures to assist their developing source water protection programs. USGS is working with the States of New Jersey and Washington to determine the risk to water supply wells from pesticide contamination (see also Chapter 7). For example, New Jersey redesigned its ambient stream monitoring network to follow the design of the Long Island-New Jersey Coastal Drainages NAWQA Study Unit. This monitoring system is being used in antidegradation analysis and TMDL planning. New Jersey is using
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program NAWQA data and concepts in a watershed indicators project for providing information to the planning process. New Jersey is also looking to use existing NAWQA runoff and water quality models for improving municipal land-use planning and zoning decisions. In Washington State, NAWQA information on pesticide contamination enabled the health department to identify wells with low vulnerability to contamination and to obtain waivers for monitoring required by the amended SDWA. This resulted in more than $6 million saved in monitoring costs (USGS, 2001). NAWQA data and information on pesticides and nutrients in agricultural areas are the basis for water resource management decisions in a number of states. For example, on the basis of NAWQA findings on irrigation practices and their impacts on water quality in the Central Columbia Plateau, the local irrigation district recommended a shift from furrow to sprinkler irrigation (USGS, 2001). NAWQA findings on elevated levels of the herbicide atrazine in water supply reservoirs in the Lower Kansas River Basin were used by the state as the basis for establishing a pesticide management area in northern Kansas. NAWQA data have helped guide EPA’s registration decisions on the commonly detected herbicides aldicarb, alachlor, and acetochlor and the insecticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and carbofuran. EPA’s Office of Pesticides relies on NAWQA data to meet one of its performance goals, which states: “By 2010, detections of the 15 pesticides most frequently found in surface water in USGS NAWQA data will be reduced by 50 percent.” Nevada uses groundwater data collected by NAWQA in the Nevada Basins and Range to make decisions on registering pesticides. NAWQA’s findings on how urban water resources are affected by nonpoint runoff has led to changes in the way state and local water resource managers protect urban water quality. New Jersey and the USGS are collaborating to develop a computer model based on NAWQA findings that forecasts the effect of land-use development on water quality. In the Upper Gunnison River Watershed in Colorado, local water resource managers are using NAWQA findings to determine the health of the watershed, which has seen rapid urbanization over the past 20 years. These findings are being used to guide wastewater management decisions (USGS, 2001). Lastly, NAWQA information on organochlorine compounds and trace elements in fish tissue is being used by several states, including Pennsylvania, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Washington, to evaluate and establish fish consumption advisories. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 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
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program conveyed through several types of written reports, journal articles, professional papers, digital products, the NAWQA Internet site, and an on-line Data Warehouse. Two external reviews of NAWQA publications have generally found them to be well written and to provide useful information. 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. 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 recommends that NAWQA improve on the ways it conveys information to policy makers, resource managers, and the public: The USGS and NAWQA have to clearly report in summary fact sheets and on the NAWQA home page changes in the scope of the program in a timely manner, along with future plans. As the data generated by NAWQA increase in scope and size, improvements in data access and management for outside users may be needed. NAWQA should ensure that data are released in a timely manner to assist researchers and resource managers. Furthermore, 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. NAWQA can provide more references (and links) to other sources of information for resource managers in both its written reports and on its Web sites. The NAWQA Leadership Team headquarters 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.
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program NAWQA study units should continue to work with local resource managers to improve sampling methods, identify water quality problems, and help develop solutions to those problems. NAWQA should encourage 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. REFERENCES Ator, S. W., J. D. Blomquist, J. W. Brakebill, J. M. Denis, M. J. Ferrari, C. V. Miller, and H. Zappia. 1998. Water Quality in the Potomac River Basin, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, 1992-96. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1166. Reston, Va.: U.S. Geological Survey. Ayers, M. A., J. G. Kennen, and P. E. Stackelberg. 2000. Water Quality in the Long Island-New Jersey Coastal Drainages, New York and New Jersey, 1996-98. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1201. Reston, Va.: U.S. Geological Survey. BAH (Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc.) 1999. U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program: Focus Groups for Customer Feedback on ’91 Study Unit Reports. Final Report. McLean, Va.: Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Barbash, J. E., G. P. Thelin, D. W. Kolpin, and R. J. Gilliom. 1999. Distribution of Major Herbicides in Ground Water of the United States. U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4245. Sacramento, Calif.: U.S. Geological Survey. Bird, J. C. 1997. Evaluation of National Water Quality Assessment Publications. Washington, D.C.: National Water Quality Assessment Program National Advisory Council. Cohen, P., W. M. Alley, and W. G. Wilber. 1988. National water-quality assessment: Future directions of the U.S. Geological Survey. American Water Resources Association Bulletin 24(26):5. Crawford, J. K., and S. N. Luoma. 1992. Guidelines for Studies of Contaminants in Biological Tissues for the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 92-494. Lemoyne, Pa.: U.S. Geological Survey. Cuffney, T. F., M. E. Gurtz, and M. R. Meador. 1993. Methods for collecting benthic invertebrate samples as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 93-406. Raleigh, N.C.: U.S. Geological Survey. Ebbert, J. C., and M. H. Kim. 1998. Relation between irrigation method, sediment yields, and losses of pesticides and nitrogen. Journal of Environmental Quality 27(2):372-380. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 2000. National Water Quality Inventory: 1998 Report to Congress. EPA841-R-00-001. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fallon, J. D., and R, P. McNellis. 2000. Nutrients and Suspended Sediment in Snowmelt Runoff From Part of the Upper Mississippi River Basin, Minnesota and Wisconsin, 1997. U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4165. Mounds View, Minn.: U.S. Geological Survey. Fitzpatrick, F. A., I. R. Waite, P. J. D’Arconte, M. R. Meador, M. A. Maupin, and M. E. Gurtz. 1998. Revised Methods for Characterizing Stream Habitat in the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4052. Raleigh, N.C.: U.S. Geological Survey. Focazio, M. J., A. H. Welch, S. A. Watkins, D. R. Helsel, and M. A. Horn. 1999. A Retrospective Analysis on the Occurrence of Arsenic in Ground-Water Resources of the United States and Limitations in Drinking-Water-Supply Characterization. U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4279. Available online at http://co.water.usgs.gov/trace/pubs/wrir-99-4279.
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Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program Larson, S. J., R. J. Gilliom, and P. D. Capel. 1999. Pesticides in Streams of the United States—Initial Results from the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4222. Sacramento, Calif.: U.S. Geological Survey. Leahy, P. P., J. S. Rosenshein, and D. S. Knopman. 1990. Implementation plan for the National Water-Quality Assessment Program: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 90-174. Reston, Va.: U.S. Geological Survey. Leahy, P. P. 1992. Consistent data on water quality—it’s long overdue. Geotimes 27(12):5. Leahy, P. P., and W. G. Wilber. 1991. National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 91-54. Reston, Va.: U.S. Geological Survey. Lee, K. E., D. G. Huggins, and E. M. Thurman. 1995. Effects of hydrophyte community structure on atrazine and alachlor degradation in wetlands. Pp. 525-538 in Campbell, K. L. (ed.) Versatility of Wetlands in the Agricultural Landscape. St. Joseph, Mich.: American Society of Agricultural Engineers. Litke, D. W. 1999. Review of Phosphorus Control Measures in the United States and Their Effects on Water Quality. U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4007. Denver, Colo.: U.S. Geological Survey. Lopes, T. J., and C. V. Price. 1997. Study Plan for Urban Stream Indicator Sites of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 97-25. Rapid City, S.D.: U.S. Geological Survey. Mallard, G. E., J. T. Armbruster, R. E. Broshears, E. J. Evenson, S. N. Luoma, P. J. Phillips, and K. R. Prince. 1999. Recommendations for Cycle II of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. U.S. Geological Survey NAWQA Planning Team. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 99-470. Reston, Va.: U.S. Geological Survey. Martin, J. D., R. J. Gilliom, and T. L. Schertz. 1999. Summary and Evaluation of Pesticides in Field Blanks Collected for the National Water-Quality Assessment Program, 1992-95. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 98-412. Indianapolis, Ind.: U.S. Geological Survey. Meador, M. R., T. F. Cuffney, and M. E. Gurtz. 1993. Methods for Sampling Fish Communities as Part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 93-104. Raleigh, N.C.: U.S. Geological Survey. Mueller, D. K., P. A. Hamilton, D. R. Helsel, K. J. Hitt, and B. C. Ruddy. 1995. Nutrients in Ground Water and Surface Water of the United States—An Analysis of Data Through 1992. U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4031. Denver, Colo.: U.S. Geological Survey. Mueller, D. K., J. D. Martin, and T. J. Lopes. 1997. Quality-Control Design for Surface-Water Sampling in the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 97-223. Denver, Colo.: U.S. Geological Survey. Myers, D. N., and K. D. Metzer. 2000. Status and Trends in Suspended-Sediment Discharges, Soil Erosion, and Conservation Tillage in the Maumee River Basin—Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana in Cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. U.S. Geological Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4091. Columbus, Ohio: U.S. Department of the Interior. Nolan, B. T. 1998. Modeling Approaches for Assessing the Risk of Nonpoint-Source Contamination of Ground Water. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 98-531. Denver, Colo.: U.S. Geological Survey. Nolan, B. T., and B. C. Ruddy. 1996. Nitrate in Ground Waters of the United States—Assessing the Risk. U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 092-96. Reston, Va.: U.S. Geological Survey. NRC (National Research Council). 1999. Arsenic in Drinking Water. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Ribaudo, M. O., and A. Bouzaher. 1994. Atrazine: Environmental Characteristics and Economics of Management. Agricultural Economic Report 699. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
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