third decade of water-quality assessments. (For the full statement of task, see Box 1-2 in Chapter 1.)

Once the study was under way, the USGS NAWQA Cycle 3 Planning Team asked the committee to give priority to the portion of the task asking for input on scientific priorities for the third decade (Cycle 3) of the NAWQA program. These scientific priorities were expressed in two USGS planning documents, the Design of Cycle 3 of the National Water Quality Assessment Program, 2013–2023: Part 1: Framework of Water-Quality Issues and Potential Approaches or the “Science Framework” and the Design of Cycle 3 of the National Water Quality Assessment Program, 2013-2023: Part 2: Science Plan for Improved Water-Quality Information and Management or the “Science Plan.” The committee responded with two letter reports (Appendixes A and B).1 This report, the committee’s final report, expands upon the advice in the letter reports and addresses the statement of task in its entirety. The report reflects on NAWQA’s history and accomplishments (Chapters 2 and 3), outlines a way forward for the program that includes additional feedback on scientific priorities and the Science Plan (Chapter 4), and links this to cooperative, collaborative, and coordinated efforts in the future (Chapter 5).


The first decade (Cycle 1, 1991-2001) of the NAWQA program focused on a baseline assessment, i.e., the status of the nation’s water-quality conditions. The original program design provided information on water resources by investigating and comparing hydrologically meaningful pieces of geography or study units across the nation. The second decade (Cycle 2, 2001 to the present) focused on identifying trends in water quality, building on the Cycle 1 status activities. During Cycle 2, the program enhanced modeling efforts to extrapolate water quality conditions across the country and expanded communication efforts to disseminate products. In 2004, the program shifted away from the study unit design, restructuring the program design around 8 Major River Basins and 19 Principal Aquifers. This transition is explained in part by the increased emphasis on trend work in Cycle 2 but also by funding decline. This transition is consistent with an overall decline in the number of monitoring sites since 1991 because of planned changes in the design and funding decline (Table S-1).


1 Both the Science Plan and the Science Framework evolved throughout the committee process, responding to continued development from NAWQA leadership, input from stakeholders, and advice from this committee. In the first letter report the committee reviewed the Science Framework version from the fall of 2009. In its second letter report the committee reviewed the Science Plan version from November 2010. The Science Framework is available at

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