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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities
and these efforts lack coordination. States along the river have assigned different designated uses to the same river segments; they use different judgments and methods in their assessments; and there is no standard for the time frame or frequency of water quality monitoring. Mississippi River monitoring programs conducted by the USGS and the Corps of Engineers have diminished over time in many places, although the USGS is increasing monitoring capabilities and the number of stations in some areas (e.g., Atchafalaya River). Generally speaking, the extent and quality of biological, physical, and chemical data along the river generally do not support thorough CWA-related assessments. The lack of a centralized MississippiRiver water quality information system and data gathering program hinders effective application of the Clean Water Act and acts as a barrier tomaintaining and improving water quality along the Mississippi River andinto the northern Gulf of Mexico.
States along the mainstem Mississippi River, together with the federal government, need to coordinate better with respect to planning monitoring activities and sharing the data that result. In a climate of ever-decreasing resources for monitoring, all federal and state agencies involved in monitoring the Mississippi River mainstem should cooperate and coordinate their efforts to the greatest extent possible. The Mississippi River clearly is of federal interest because of the many states in the river basin, the river’s prominent role in supporting interstate commerce, and its hydrologic and ecological systems that extend across several states and into the Gulf of Mexico. The federal government should take the lead in ensuring adequate water quality monitoring, a cornerstone of effective Clean Water Act implementation along the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico.
There is a clear need for federal leadership in system-wide monitoringof the Mississippi River. The EPA should take the lead in establishing awater quality data sharing system for the length of the Mississippi River. This would include establishing coordinated monitoring designs and developing mechanisms (hardware, software, and protocols) necessary for efficient data sharing among monitoring and resource agencies and Section 305(b) and Section 303(d) assessment teams. It also would entail ensuring consistency in river monitoring in terms of parameters measured, units and methods employed, and siting of monitoring stations along the length of the river. The EPA should draw on the considerable expertise and data held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the USGS, as well as NOAA and the water-related data for the northern Gulf of Mexico that it collects and maintains. The EPA should work closely with Mississippi River states in establishing this plan and system. A priority for EPA in this regard should be to coordinate with the states to ensure the collection of data necessary to develop numeric water quality standards for nutrients in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.