NAWQA phased in national synthesis assessments during Cycle 1, conducted by national synthesis teams. These included pesticides and nutrients in 1991, VOCs in 1994, and trace elements and ecology in 1997. Criteria for the selection of these topics considered a combination of understanding stakeholder priorities, capturing appropriate scale (i.e., topics should affect a large area or many small areas), representing persistent and recurring issues, importance to the study units that were in place, and complementing other national synthesis topics. NRC (2002) commended NAWQA for its groundbreaking work in these areas during Cycle 1.
NAWQA activities were developed with an “environmental framework” or a broader context through which the data were related to the bigger, environmental picture. This framework, composed of “common natural and human-related factors, such as geology and land use,” was used “to compare and contrast findings on water quality within and among study units in relation to causative factors and, ultimately, to develop inferences about water quality in areas that have not been sampled” (Gilliom et al., 1995). The environmental framework was reflected in the entire program design from sampling type to the interdisciplinary staffing structure. Application of the environmental framework assisted the program in, for example, choosing a drainage basin to study or a set of indicator sites. The environmental framework concept was and is today a touchstone for program efforts.
The second cycle of water-quality monitoring (Cycle 2) began in 2002 and extends to the end of fiscal year (FY) 2012, slightly past the duration of this committee’s review. Per the original design, NAWQA implemented a shift toward trends and understanding as the program moved out of Cycle 1. NAWQA integrated a number of new components as a result of evaluations from the Cycle 2 National Implementation Team (NIT), input from NAWQA personnel who were the primary drivers of the original design, and recommendations from the 2002 NRC report.3 NAWQA investigated select new contaminants and addressed many complexities involved with their environmental occurrence such as seasonal variations, degradation products, and chemical mixtures. These new activities were pursued
3 Approximately 80 percent of the 2002 NRC recommendations were implemented by NAWQA, and those that were not were omitted largely because of funding restrictions.