4

The Way Forward for the Third Decade of National Water-Quality Assessment

Reasons to support the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program in the third decade echo those that originally motivated the creation of the program. Indeed, the needs articulated by the National Research Council (NRC) in 1987 (NRC, 1987), needs that NAWQA was designed to meet and has met, remain ongoing and unchanged:

• characterize water quality over time,

• develop tools to evaluate why water quality has changed,

• provide water-quality data comprehensively to the nation in an accessible form,

• understand aquatic ecosystems, and, ultimately,

• forecast water-quality changes in the future.

More than 20 years after the 1987 NRC report was written, an additional reason to support NAWQA is its record of success and impact. Furthermore, as water-related issues become more complex because of changing climate, land use, and demographics the continued need for a national water-quality assessment becomes even clearer. Water-quality impairments will continue to be a complex issue, and resolving water policy debates will require more water science, not less (NRC, 2009).

The beginning of Cycle 3 is when the program can begin to achieve a new level of understanding and analysis capability even as it continues to document the status and trends of the nation’s water-quality. NAWQA has evolved from a program emphasizing water quality data collection and trend assessment to one having the potential to forecast contaminant occur-



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4 The Way Forward for the Third Decade of National Water-Quality Assessment Reasons to support the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program in the third decade echo those that originally motivated the cre- ation of the program. Indeed, the needs articulated by the National Re- search Council (NRC) in 1987 (NRC, 1987), needs that NAWQA was designed to meet and has met, remain ongoing and unchanged: characterize water quality over time, develop tools to evaluate why water quality has changed, provide water-quality data comprehensively to the nation in an accessible form, understand aquatic ecosystems, and, ultimately, forecast water-quality changes in the future. More than 20 years after the 1987 NRC report was written, an ad- ditional reason to support NAWQA is its record of success and impact. Furthermore, as water-related issues become more complex because of changing climate, land use, and demographics the continued need for a national water-quality assessment becomes even clearer. Water-quality im- pairments will continue to be a complex issue, and resolving water policy debates will require more water science, not less (NRC, 2009). The beginning of Cycle 3 is when the program can begin to achieve a new level of understanding and analysis capability even as it continues to document the status and trends of the nation's water-quality. NAWQA has evolved from a program emphasizing water quality data collection and trend assessment to one having the potential to forecast contaminant occur- 73

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74 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM rence and aquatic degradation trends under multiple scenarios at nationally significant scales. In other words, NAWQA is poised, both within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the federal government, to understand the interplay between the complex factors that affect water quality through the continued requisite sampling of the nation's waters (NRC, 2011a). The program's scientific investments are maturing, enabling NAWQA to move beyond water-quality monitoring toward understanding the dynamics of water-quality changes and using that understanding to forecast likely future conditions under different scenarios of change. These are advances that the nation needs and the committee strongly supports (NRC, 2011a). The need for a national water-quality assessment is as important, if not more so today, as it was when NAWQA was first established. A successful national water-quality assessment in Cycle 3 would be a national-scale water-quality surveillance program that evaluates and fore- casts how changing land use conditions and climate variability may affect water quality in different settings, and that serves as a tool for water policy- and decision-makers as they evaluate policy options impacting the nation's water resources. Many efforts exist to assess water quality in the United States at universities and other federal and state programs at the local and regional levels. As the nation's water-quality regulator, the U.S. Environ- mental Protection Agency (EPA) has a particularly critical role. However, NAWQA is unique in its focus on water-quality assessment at the national scale and its inclusion of a large number of water-quality parameters. This corresponds with the committee's sense of the unique niche of a national program, a program that takes on work that states cannot do alone or work that crosses jurisdictional boundaries. For example, NAWQA would take on regional studies that can be extrapolated to other areas of the country, or studies that answer regional water-quality questions that are extremely important to the nation. Program efforts would cross state lines, such as water quality assessments of the Mississippi River. Yet it is unrealistic to consider a way forward while ignoring fiscal reali- ties and the difficult programmatic decisions that NAWQA will face. The committee sees many challenges ahead for NAWQA in Cycle 3, challenges that are related to the Statement of Task: How does NAWQA remain a national program in the face of re- source decline? How should NAWQA balance new status activities against the need to maintain long-term trend networks and understanding studies? How can NAWQA use ancillary data and maintain a high level of quality? How can NAWQA maintain focus amidst numerous and compet- ing stakeholder demands?

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 75 Chapter 3 should serve as a reminder to the program of a deep history of success to draw upon as it faces the challenges listed above. This chapter is framed in terms of priorities and trade-offs in order to be the most useful to the program and USGS. THE FIRST PRIORITY: BASIC SAMPLING NAWQA has produced a rich national database of chemical, physi- cal, and biological water-quality information that covers a diverse range of water resources through a robust monitoring design. These data are essential for assessing the status and trends of the nation's water quality and are used by a large and varied number of stakeholders from other federal agencies to citizens. These data are used to develop, calibrate, and validate models that allow USGS and others to forecast future conditions under a variety of scenarios and extrapolate specific data points in order to a complete a "picture" of a given condition. NAWQA's basic sampling networks are critical. Why does the nation continue to need long-term monitoring? Moni- toring over many years to decades is critical to assess whether the quality of the nation's waters is improving or degrading, because of lag times in environmental responses and year-to-year variability. Monitoring is also essential to assess whether management strategies are working to improve water systems in, for example, the Chesapeake Bay (NRC, 2011b) or California's San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary (NRC, 2011c). Long-term, continuous collection of water-quality data serves an even broader-scale purpose by identifying changes in water quality caused by changes in the landscape condition, contaminant sources, and variations in climate. Calibrating water-quality models requires measures of both quantity and quality, along with a fundamental understanding of chemical and biologi- cal processing. Models that are produced to make predictions can only be validated through monitoring. Despite these and other reasons to support the need for long-term monitoring, observational networks to measure various water-quality characteristics in the United States have been on the decline for a number of years (Entekhabi et al., 1999; NRC, 1991, 2002, 2004b). It is important that NAWQA continue to help determine if policy changes related to water quality have been effective, particularly with re- spect to delivery of excess nutrients and contaminants to water supplies and important ecosystems. The continuity of national water-quality measurements in time and space is fundamental to meeting the goal of national water-quality assess- ment and is something that no other entity in the United States has the ca- pacity or charge to do. First and foremost, NAWQA's primary focus should be on continuing the monitoring needed to support the national status and

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76 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM trends assessments of the nation's water-quality. Budgetary constraints and the need to fulfill the primary mission of the program make this focus even more critical. Once lost, such a perspective can be very difficult to rees- tablish resulting in a "break" in the long-term status and trends data set that NAWQA has established. Also, if basic monitoring data collection is reduced too far NAWQA could fall below the tipping point where it can be considered a national program in scope. This has been discussed in previ- ous NRC reviews of the NAWQA program, noting that NAWQA could be nearing this tipping point where it is no longer a national program (NRC, 2002). Thus, the committee supports efforts in Cycle 3 that not only reach beyond the focus of basic monitoring, discussed below, but also recognizes that these other goals can only be accomplished if the basic data collection continues. THE ROLE AND NEED FOR MODELING A tipping point for NAWQA is a point where, once crossed, the pro- gram as currently organized, scaled, and operated can no longer provide a national assessment of water quality. Restoration of resources will not reverse this inability to achieve the program's core mission, once the tip- ping point is crossed. Scaling the program up to what it once was would be inhibited by the break in the long-term monitoring record and the erosion of programmatic infrastructure. However, there may be other scales, modes or organization, and scientific effort that would still allow water-quality monitoring to be achieved. Yet this water-quality monitoring would lack a key feature of the program--national scale--or the ability to say something meaningful about the nation's water quality as a whole. The committee cannot quantify an exact tipping point for NAWQA. Metrics for identifying the point at which the tipping point is crossed, per- haps built into the network design, would be required. However, the com- mittee can reflect on how to assess proximity to the tipping point through the critical question, how much could uncertainty increase in NAWQA outputs before relevant national conclusions could no longer be drawn, and the program suffered irreparable harm? Similarly, does NAWQA have ad- equate water-quality monitoring data to support its water-quality models? Measurements can only provide a snapshot of condition for the time they are taken, and they cannot be used by themselves to forecast future conditions or understand water quality in unsampled areas. Models are tools that can be used for forecasting, as well as to construct scenarios for assessing the impacts of climate and land use change, and likely conse- quences of different policy options. A focus of NAWQA efforts in Cycle 3, second only to basic monitoring activities, should be support of NAWQA modeling initiatives.

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 77 NAWQA water-quality models initially are calibrated, matched--to data collected in the present--and usually used to "forecast" or to deter- mine what trends would occur under different scenarios of demographic, land use, and climate change in order to address national issues and ex- trapolate to a national picture. This includes but is not limited to new initiatives involving the Watershed Regression for Pesticides (WARP) and SPAtially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes (SPARROW) models (Box 4-1). These same models can be used, if desired, to "backcast," or to start with defining what water quality is desired in the future, and then identify what actions would control, say, nutrient loading to achieve that end result. These modeling and decision-support tools need to be accessible to researchers, water managers, and policy makers. Land use and climate change call into question the efficacy of using historical data to assess hydrologic and ecologic conditions because both introduce nonstationarity into the hydroclimatologic record (Milly et al., 2008). Reconciling changing factors and trends in key observed variables is an important challenge for the detection and attribution of change. Rec- onciling nonstationarity will be challenging for models like SPARROW and WARP--indeed, for any model using historical data. ASSESSMENT OF THE CYCLE 3 SCIENCE PLAN The Science Plan provides a forward-thinking vision (Box 4-2) for the next decade of assessing the nation's aquatic resources. The Science Plan reflects many recommendations and suggestions from this committee's two letter reports. It outlines a well-connected conceptual model for the pro- gram in Cycle 3 linking status and trends to understanding sources of stress- ors and effects and then ultimately linking this to modeling efforts. The Science Plan is organized into four goals for the program, which constitute the logical maturation of the program and are wise choices for leveraging the previous two decades of monitoring. The committee lacks the specifics to probe in great detail the technical soundness of specific methodologies and technologies to be used in Cycle 3; the Science Plan is a high-level planning document, and many details were not included. However, to respond to the Statement of Task, Review strategic science and implementation plans for Cycle 3 for techni- cal soundness and ability to meet stated objectives. an assessment of the technical soundness of the Science Plan and its ability to meet stated objectives follows. The overall scope of the Science Plan is broad. Opportunities exist for NAWQA to gain efficiencies by reaching out to a broader technical com-

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78 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM BOX 4-1 An Evolving SPARROW in Cycle 3 Previous versions of the SPARROW model were calibrated and used at a national scale to assess nutrient conditions in surface waters across the United States. Currently, NAWQA is expanding the use of the SPARROW model by cali- bration to encompass new scales and contaminants and by making all SPARROW models available to the public. For example, to obtain a more accurate assess- ment of water-quality conditions, NAWQA is currently calibrating the SPARROW model to six of the eight Major River Basins of the conterminous United States. NAWQA is exploring the types of contaminants that can be modeled by SPAR- ROW. The program is developing a national-scale organic carbon model that will simulate the national carbon balance. This naturally leads the SPARROW modeling effort to dissolved oxygen in surface waters and to a national-scale temperature model, the two of which are conceptually linked because dissolved oxygen responds quickly to temperature. Program scientists are also contemplat- ing a national-scale dissolved solids and salinity model, which will have numerous practical applications, for example, in tracking the presence and impact of deicing road salt. Finally, the SPARROW Decision Support System (DSS) is a new, USGS- maintained repository for SPARROW models that are made available for public use. This tool makes SPARROW available to the public via a USGS web-based system.1 The DSS allows users to choose a desired model, craft water-quality scenarios, manipulate the models locally, and share and upload the information at a later date. The system has a mapping interface that can be manipulated to show a variety of results. Datasets that calibrate the models will be available as well. When considering these developments together--the expansion of contami- nants, scale, and bringing SPARROW to the public through the DSS--it is clear that NAWQA personnel envision an enhanced SPARROW for the future. This is a vision the committee supports. 1 See http://cida.usgs.gov/sparrow/#modelid=53. munity for innovation, monitoring, and analysis. Thus, with respect to Statement of Task 1b, Are there issues not currently being substantially addressed by NAWQA that should be considered for addition to the scope of NAWQA? The committee recommends that no other issue(s) should be considered for addition to NAWQA in Cycle 3. NAWQA has identified the major water-quality issues facing the nation in the Science Plan that fall within its purview.

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 79 BOX 4-2 The Guiding Vision for Cycle 3 "Science-based strategies can protect and improve water quality for people and ecosystems even as population and threats to water quality continue to grow, demand for water increases, and climate changes." SOURCE: Design of Cycle 3 of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program, 2013-2023: Part 2: Science Plan for Improved Water-Quality Information and Management Effectiveness of Presentation The opening chapter of the Science Plan provides a compelling descrip- tion of NAWQA's vision for Cycle 3. The chapter continues to successfully articulate how NAWQA is uniquely positioned to address some of the nation's most pressing water-quality issues, including an assessment of the nation's water quality and the stressors that place water quality at risk of decline. The connections among the four goals of Cycle 3 are clearly ar- ticulated, as are the benefits of the Cycle 3 plan to the nation. The chapter explains why Cycle 3 is needed now and how partnerships are needed to address the nation's need for clean water and to address problems due to shifts in population, changes in land use, and climate change. However, the subsequent chapters of the Science Plan that expand on the main themes presented in Chapter 1 could be more clear and succinct. As a result, the committee's positive impression of the Science Plan comes more from the first chapter of the Science Plan and from presentations given by the NAWQA leadership team during the committee's deliberations rather than from the more detailed chapters in the Science Plan. More specifi- cally, the presentation of the goals is unbalanced; Goal 1 is very long and provides significant detail on each subobjective (30 pages), while Goals 2-4 are described by far less text and appear less well-developed. In addition, redundancies exist among the chapters and ultimately detract from the message. The description of each goal lacks the requisite preface needed to identify the data gaps addressed by the activities described for each goal (e.g., model inputs). Subobjectives are not prioritized in their order of ap- pearance (Goal 1). Although the committee is confident in the overall Science Plan and the direction for Cycle 3, in places the presentation and development of the written document does not instill the same level of confidence. This point is made not to be prescriptive about specific revisions to the Science Plan, but to encourage NAWQA to continue to be mindful of its presentation of

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80 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM the Science Plan and even the forthcoming Implementation Plan. These are planning documents of a more internal nature; yet, a correlation to program impact does exist in any public document that NAWQA produces. This is particularly true in documents guiding the vision for the future. Linking Groundwater and Surface Water NAWQA plans to, in part, assess groundwater quality as a source of drinking water in Cycle 3. Although understanding the contamination of the nation's source water for drinking water supply is important, this coverage of and primary focus on a single use seem inadequate to meeting the stated NAWQA mission (see also, NRC, 2010, Appendix B). Under- standing groundwater flows and articulation of the interconnectedness of ground water and surface water is an important theme. For years, USGS and NAWQA have been educating the scientific community and the public about this relationship and have been conducting seminal research to estab- lish and explain these relationships. The committee concludes that NAWQA should be mindful of this role in Cycle 3. THE SCIENCE PLAN GOALS AND OBJECTIVES: AN EVALUATION OF TRADE-OFFS The Science Plan is structured around four goals, each of which: relate to the underlying program principles of status, trends, and under- standing. These goals are: 1) Assess the current quality of the Nation's freshwater resources and how water quality is changing over time; 2) Evaluate how human activities and natural factors, such as land use and climate change, are affecting water quality over time; 3) Determine the relative effects, mechanisms of activity, and management implications of multiple stressors in aquatic ecosystems; and 4) Predict the effects of human activities, climate change, and measurement strategies on future water quality and ecosystem condition (Design of Cycle 3 of the National Water Quality Assessment Program, 2013-2023: Part 2: Science Plan for Improved Water-Quality Information and Management). The four goals in the Science Plan are consistent with the guiding vision, and they contribute to meeting the vision in a synergistic, interconnected, and balanced manner (although not communicated equally well, as noted above). The goals are used to guide development of activities that address priority "stressors" and their impact on water quality (Figure 4-1). Then, the Science Plan lists 20 objectives under the auspices of the four main goals that outline the scientific work planned to achieve each goal. The several specific objectives that are described under each of the four

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 81 FIGURE 4-1 The four major water-quality stressors (contaminants, nutrients, sedi- ment, and streamflow alternation), all of which are impacted by large-scale drivers (climate and other natural factors and population growth, land and water use) that guide the Cycle 3 Science Plan goals and program activities. SOURCE: Design of FigureAssessment Cycle 3 of the National Water Quality 4-1 Program, 2013-2023: Part 2: Science Plan for Improved Water-Quality Information and Management. Bitmapped goals in the Science Plan are not necessarily equal in their contribution to meeting the central or core principles of the Science Plan, or to meeting the overall program mission. Not only do these various objectives differ in their potential impact and in their contributions to the programmatic goals, but also they differ in the effort and resources they will require, the clarity of how they are presented, how well they are justified, and the consequences of pursuing them with higher or lower priority. The committee provides a discussion of the goals and objectives in the Science Plan to help inform NAWQA as it moves forward into Cycle 3 and adapts to changes in the future, speaking to Statement of Task 1. The committee is not charged with assessing the budgetary dimensions of NAWQA's goals and objectives as part of this review of the program, nor is it qualified to do so. Yet to be sensitive to the impact of available funding on programming, this guidance is provided as a discussion of trade-offs and consequences should the funding for implementing the Science Plan not be provided in full, with the overarching purpose of ensuring that NAWQA remains a national program.

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82 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM Considerations Used in the Evaluation of Trade-offs for Cycle 3 The Cycle 3 Science Plan offers a comprehensive assessment of the na- tion's needs for understanding status and trends in surface and groundwater quality and developing a portfolio of multi-scale models to forecast changes in water quality in response to changes in demography, land use, and climate. The Science Plan articulates an ambitious agenda of 4 goals and 20 objec- tives that drive data collection, model development, and products for public dissemination. It is critical to keep in mind that Cycle 3 should build on the existing two decades of data, experience, and products. The committee believes the Science Plan does that well. It is also important to keep the perspective that the Science Plan for the coming decade is important not only to NAWQA, or to USGS or the Department of the Interior, but also to the nation. The federal government will not be able to answer the question "Is the nation's water quality getting better or worse?" without NAWQA. In an ideal world, the Cycle 3 Science Plan would be implemented in full. All 20 objectives have scientific merit. However, given the current federal fiscal climate and the scale of the Science Plan, full-scale implementation of the Science Plan is unlikely.1 The committee carefully considered the Science Plan objectives in light of NAWQA's mission, capabilities, and resources and considered whether objectives were critical to the program mission and associated trade-offs. The committee developed criteria for determining which objectives are "es- sential" to NAWQA as a national program. An objective is essential if it contributes to one or more of the following: monitoring status and trends of surface and groundwater quality and relevant aquatic ecosystem indicators on a national scale; providing modeling capabilities to understand the effects of mul- tiple water quality stressors on humans and ecosystems, and the impacts of climate change, land use practices, and demographic changes; assessing regional-scale effects of climate change, changing land use practices, and demographic changes; forecasting consequences of future scenarios with regional (multi- state) and national implications. Implicit in the consideration of "essential" modeling objectives is that NAWQA would embed rigorous model validation processes preceding full- scale deployment of models. 1 Thissupposition is derived from conversations with NAWQA leadership and a set of fiscal scenarios crafted in the Science Framework. These scenarios estimate low, moderate, and high funding levels (compared to fiscal year 2009 levels) and the correlation to what activities the program could pursue in Cycle 3.

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 83 In a second category, the committee identified objectives that can pro- vide important benefits to the nation and would have consequences if they were not accomplished, but are not essential to NAWQA's achievement of its core mission as a national water-quality program (i.e., "important but not essential"). In some cases, these objectives are being addressed by other entities. For these objectives, the committee believes that NAWQA should play a contributing role, or work closely in partnership with other organiza- tions with complementary capabilities. The discussion identifies partners; Chapter 5 explores this further. In other cases, despite scientific merit, the committee concluded that the magnitude of resources necessary to achieve the stated objective would detract from other, program-critical, goals. Finally, in a third category, the committee identified one objective for which the Science Plan does not provide sufficient justification for its value to the nation and its place within NAWQA (i.e., needs "further justifica- tion"). Consequently, the objective in this third category is of least impor- tance to the program. This determination, along with the categorization of the other objectives, does not imply that this objective is without scientific merit; quite the opposite. The following discussion is a practical exercise in an attempt to assist NAWQA leadership in making difficult decisions regarding future priorities. Below, the committee discusses the placement of the Science Plan ob- jectives in these three categories, beginning with the first. Many objectives in the Science Plan overlap both conceptually and in how NAWQA will achieve the goal in the Cycle 3 program design. Thus, the discussion is framed not only around objectives that are "essential," "not essential," and also need "further justification" but why the scientific thrusts embedded within each are particularly critical. Objectives That Are Essential to Cycle 3 The committee advises that these objectives are crucial to NAWQA's mission and to remaining a national program. Goal 1 Status and Trends: Objectives "a" (surface water), "d" (groundwater), "e" (stream ecosystems), "f" (contamination of receiving waters), and "g" (biological condition) The essence of this goal is the very reason the program was estab- lished: the need to develop long-term, nationally consistent information on the quality of the nation's streams and groundwater (Box 4-3). The data and analyses associated with the Goal 1 objectives continue the original NAWQA objectives of assessing the status and trends of the nation's water quality and the factors that affect water quality and aquatic ecosystems. In

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TABLE 4-2 A Summary of NAWQA Program Design by Cycle Showing the Evolution of Program Design Since 1991 98 Cycle 1 Cycle 2 Cycle 3 (planned) 1991-2001 2002-2004 2004-2007 2007-2012 2013-2023 Number of Study 51 (SU) 42 (SU); transition to Major River Basins and Principal Aquifers 20 (IWS)a Units (SUs) beginning in 2004 or Integrated Watershed Studies (IWSs) Number of Multi- n/a n/a 8 Major River 8 Major River Basins; 8 Major River year, Regional Basins; 19 Principal Aquifers Basins, Assessments 19 Principal Aquifers 24 Principal Aquifer Assessments Number of Regional n/a n/a n/a n/a 10-20 Synoptic Studies Number of surface 505 145 84 113 313b water sampling sites in Fixed Site Monitoring Network Sampling frequency One-third of SUs 6-30 samples per 6-26 samples per 6-26 samples per year 18-24 samples per of fixed surface sampled intensively year (most sites year (most sites (most sites sampled year, all years water sampling sites every 3 years with 18- sampled 8 times sampled 6 times per 16 or more times per 30 samples per site per per year), all year), all years year), with most sites year, only one-fourth years monitored 1 out of of sites continued to be every 4 years sampled after-intensive period ended

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Number of aquatic 416 125 75 58 88 ecology sitesc (6 sites are ecology-only) Sampling frequency At least once; subset Annually, Annually (biennially Every 2 years of aquatic ecology of sites were sampled beginning 2002 for fish), 2005-2006 (invertebrates and algae Annually sites annually during 3-year annually at reference high-intensity phase sites) Number of 272 networks, 137 networks, 170 networks, groundwater 6,307 wells 3,698 wells 6,450 wells networks/wells Additional studies High Plains Aquifer Topical Studies; Regional Synoptic study Source Water Studies; Intensive Quality Studies;d Regional Assessments Groundwater Studies;e Local Groundwater Studiesf a IWS can be considered surface water focused "study units" where an emphasis on understanding hydrologic linkages bewteen contaminant sources and transport both in surface water and groundwater are studied. NAWQA plans for 1-2 IWS in each Cycle 2 Major River Basin. The IWS will consist of core assessment activities but will also be customized to address location conditions. b Includes 70 drinking-water intakes, with 20 on streams and 50 on reservoirs. c The ecology sites are included in the total number of surface water sampling sites. d Regional Synoptic Studies are short-term, targeted water-quality assessments of specific regional and (or) water-qulality conditions that generally overlie one or more IWS areas. Intensive Studies are interdisciplinary studies ranging in scale from individual stream reaches to small watersheds and are planned to be nested within the IWS. Both are surface-water focused. e Regional Groundwater Studies are nested within Principal Aquifers and designed to contribute to assessment of status and trends at the regional to national scale and also, by the use of regional flow models, insights into regional groundwater contributions of water and contaminants to streams. f Local Groundwater Studies mimic Cycle 1 and 2 Flow System Studies and are designed to improve understanding of groundwater quality at a more specific, local flow-path scale. The Intensive Studies and Local Groundwater Studies will be co-located and nested within Regional Groundwater Studies and the IWS and are intended to provide insights regarding surface water and groundwater interactions. 99

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100 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM BOX 4-7 The Importance of Increased Sampling Beginning in the mid-1990s, NAWQA collected samples and probed the pres- ence of the insecticide diazinon in an urban stream. Samples were collected an- nually, rather than on the 4-year rotational sampling design commonly employed by NAWQA during Cycle 2. NAWQA continued sampling as diazinon was phased out for both indoor and outdoor residential use in the early 2000s, and developed a reliable time-series model to assess long-term changes in diazinon concentrations as residential use declined. The model showed a rapid water-quality response to eliminating outdoor uses in 2002 and a continued decline in diazinon concentra- tion through 2004. NAWQA then reanalyzed the same data using only the informa- tion that would have been available if the 4-year rotational sampling design had been employed, i.e., if the model was based on sampling every fourthyear. The resulting trend indicated an increase in diazinon in streams through 2004, rather than the decrease in concentration that had actually occurred. If NAWQA had not sampled annually, then the effectiveness and environmental benefits of the regulatory decision to phase out diazinon would have been called into question. SOURCE: Modified from NRC, 2010. different numbers or some combinations of sites, with clear explanation of the criteria used for those choices. Furthermore, with the basic study design changes since Cycle 1, the 313 sites used under the proposed study design may not be the most appropri- ate for the design and objectives of Cycle 3. The committee has a similar concern regarding groundwater sampling design; there is insufficient infor- mation to evaluate whether the number of sites (3,000 monitoring wells, 2,500 domestic wells, and 700 public wells) is too few or too many to meet the Cycle 3 objectives. NAWQA is correctly mindful of maintaining sites where long-term trend data have been collected, and this commentary is not to be interpreted as discontinuing these valuable sites. However, given the planned emphasis on modeling in Cycle 3 it is important that the design corresponds to this emphasis. NAWQA used both a linear programming approach and an expert judgment based on semiquantitative analysis to select the reduced number of study units at the beginning of Cycle 2. When used in conjunction, these approaches ensured that the Cycle 2 status and trends network would account for at least 50 percent of the nation's drinking water use,14 a cross- 14 When completed, the final group of study units accounted for 61 percent of the national drinking water use.

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 101 section of the nation's hydrologic settings and ecological regions, the top 10 regions representing major contaminant sources (urban, agriculture, and natural), and major aquifer systems. The study units were prioritized based on these criteria, and those not evaluated as top priority were revisited to ensure that they did not possess characteristics that would warrant their inclusion in the priority list. These approaches are discussed extensively in NRC (2002); the 2002 NRC committee concluded that these approaches were "commendable." Following a similar path, NAWQA's Surface Water Status and Trends Redesign Committee was created in the mid-2000s to modify the Cycle 2 design and operation of networks because of concerns about rising program costs in an environment of stable or declining appropriations. In making recommendations for the redesign, the committee considered the fiscal envi- ronment, scientific evidence, and maintenance of established sites with a rel- atively long trend record, all within the framework of remaining true to the original objectives of the program. The redesign committee made two major recommendations on which NAWQA acted: (1) the program should take full advantage of the use of models to define agricultural status and trends and answer large-scale questions by extrapolation and (2) the program should emphasize the national and regional scales through Major River Basins (NAWQA leadership, personal communication, March 19, 2012). These efforts and NAWQA's flexibility during Cycle 2 are commend- able, and they can be of use to the program both in the implementation of Cycle 3 and if the program faces similar challenges in the future. NAWQA should determine the number of sampling locations and frequency using a similar process that was used in Cycle 2, adapted to the objectives for Cycle 3, with particular consideration of the certainty required for Cycle 3 modeling efforts. This approach can aid an explicit determination of the budgetary implications of these decisions and options. This is likely the pur- view of the forthcoming Implementation Plan for Cycle 3, and this advice is to be taken in this context. In the second letter report, the committee recommended that the NAWQA monitoring and modeling design should reflect a dynamic sam- pling strategy, overlain on top of a periodic sampling design. By "dynamic," the committee means a design that is flexible to capture specific events (such as spring melt, or the first few inches of rainfall as runoff) or geographic scales (intensive sampling in a targeted area to capture a specific process). Such flexibility might be needed to provide optimal data for model calibra- tion and validation, or to reduce uncertainty in certain model processes. Be- cause monitoring is expensive, dynamic sampling should be used judiciously and where it will best reduce uncertainty in outputs. This monitoring may be done with collaborators (states, academics, etc.), taking full advantage of real-time measurement technologies.

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102 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM NAWQA has always used a nested hierarchy of sites, or design ele- ments, in both surface water and groundwater studies to enable spatial and temporal extrapolation. For surface waters, this nesting involves locating smaller watersheds within larger watersheds at different scales by sharing key sites. Nesting groundwater sites spatially and at different depths con- tributes to a three-dimensional understanding and permits spatial extrapo- lation. The design proposed in the Science Plan for Cycle 3 is no exception. Another basic design element used by NAWQA is retrospective analy- sis, compiling historical data, assessments, and insights gained from these analyses. Given its success, NAWQA should continue using nested sites and retrospective analyses of program data, and also data from federal, state, and local partners, to maximize the coverage of their assessments. Regional Synoptic Studies (RSS) are targeted to address spatial gaps related to contaminant status and trends. The use and addition of RSS sites should be closely evaluated with respect to their necessity in answering regional and national questions and their contribution to model develop- ment. Use of sites maintained by other agencies and academic organizations should be explored because such collaboration could help reduce resource requirements and/or enhance the utility of NAWQA data. Integrated Watershed Studies (IWS) are long-term water-quality assess- ments and are typically anchored by one or more NFSN sites. These sites are similar to the former study units in concept and represent the reincar- nation of these former building blocks in the Science Plan. The committee supports the IWS but recognizes that pursuit might be limited to a pilot phase in the challenging fiscal climate. Potential IWS should be closely evaluated to ensure that the sites selected will clearly contribute to solving regional and national questions and/or meeting key model development needs. Some IWS may be well-suited for developing collaborative support with local, state, and federal agencies, such as EPA, and the U.S. Depart- ment of Agriculture, and perhaps even academic research teams. Intensive Studies (IS) focus on individual small-scale watersheds (or even stream reaches) to address details of hydrologic and/or biogeochemi- cal processes. Because of their scale, IS sites are ideally suited for develop- ing collaborative interactions with local, state, and federal agencies, and academic research teams. NAWQA could very well defer these sites to others and collaboratively use their data. Such sites could, for example, be operated by groups such as the Toxics Substances Hydrology Program, the Global Change Program, or non-USGS programs like the National Science Foundation's National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).15 15 The National Science Foundation's National Ecological Observatory Network is a re- search instrument consisting of infrastructure distributed across the United States designed to conduct continental-scale ecological research.

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 103 With respect to groundwater, Cycles 1 and 2 focused on shallow groundwater, or younger, recently recharged waters. Cycle 3 proposes to build on this assessment and add further observations of deeper ground- waters within Principal Aquifers with the focus being on drinking water. The Principal Aquifer Assessments will be the primary unit for groundwa- ter studies in Cycle 3 to assess the status and trends of groundwater on a national scale. Regional Groundwater Studies (RGS), nested within a Prin- cipal Aquifer, will be collocated with IWS surface-water studies. The third proposed groundwater design element, Local Groundwater Studies, will be nested within RGS and/or may be collocated with surface-water IS, to im- prove knowledge on specific cause and effect to increase understanding of human activities and natural processes that affect groundwater quality. The committee's advice to the program regarding mindfulness of the linkage be- tween surface water and groundwater is consistent with this nested design. The groundwater studies particularly depend upon collaborative efforts with the USGS Groundwater Resources Program, the Water Cooperative Program, the Cooperative Geologic Mapping program (of USGS and their state partners), and other federal and non-federal partners both for data acquisition and modeling input data. These groundwater design elements and the addition of new sites should be carefully evaluated for their contri- bution to answering regional and national questions at NAWQA's core, and for their contribution to key model development needs, rather than focusing on more local-scale evaluations. COMMUNICATION AND PROGRAM IMPACT NAWQA has used a wide array of approaches to communicate find- ings, from press releases to congressional briefings, peer-reviewed publica- tions, and the program website. These efforts are directed by the NAWQA Communications Coordinator, an important role within the program. The committee has noted that these efforts are an accomplishment of the pro- gram (Chapter 3, Appendix C). Yet several communication challenges exist and are discussed below. NAWQA has performed three Customer Satisfaction Surveys in the past 12 years, and each has had a slightly different format.16 In the two earlier surveys NAWQA learned that users favor downloadable graphics; as a result the 2006 Pesticide Circular invested significant resources into developing downloadable graphics. NAWQA also discovered that 50 per- cent of their users are "technical" or use the models and more technical 16 The first Customer Satisfaction Survey was in 2000, probing the usefulness of a specific product, The Quality of Our Nation's Waters--Nutrients and Pesticides (USGS, 1999). The second and third were both of a more general format and were conducted in 2004 and 2010.

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104 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM components of the program's output. And of the overall audience, 80 per- cent found the fact sheets (which are geared to the non-technical audience; see Appendix C) useful, meaning the NAWQA fact sheets resonate with a broader audience than originally thought. Results from the 2010 survey indicated that 90 percent of NAWQA stakeholders found the use of "email blasts" and the NAWQA website (in terms of navigation and relevance) effective. Yet, the majority of NAWQA stakeholders access the website only occasionally. NAWQA stakeholders identified sediment and contaminants of emerging concern as the two big- gest information gaps in the program. The majority (95 percent) of stake- holders prefer electronic copies of NAWQA program documents. NAWQA program video casts (CoreCasts) are the least used product, and few respon- dents were interested in social media tools such as Facebook and T witter. Yet audience response indicates that if results are easy to understand, video podcasts are an effective means of presenting scientific information (Moorman et al., 2011). Most respondents do not use the NAWQA data warehouse (P. Hamilton, personal communication, October 26, 2010). NAWQA stakeholders indicated satisfaction with the program website, but the majority visit the site only "occasionally" (Figure 4-2). NAWQA does, informally, measure success and feedback on a more frequent basis than Customer Satisfaction Surveys. This includes monitor- ing the number of website hits, the number of requests for products at the time of release, and attendance at briefings during product launches, and collecting media coverage. However, this tracking is sporadic and lacks a structured approach and cataloging system. Thus, an opportunity exists. Working collaboratively and taking full advantage of expertise in the USGS Office of Public Affairs, NAWQA should establish a formal mechanism to evaluate the success and effectiveness of all the elements in its public rela- tions portfolio and adapt public relations efforts as needed. This would be helpful not only in directing the communication efforts of the program but also in tracking and illustrating the importance of NAWQA. Indeed, the 2010 Customer Satisfaction Survey indicated that approximately 45 percent of those accessing NAWQA data use it in policy development (Figure 4-3). This is a critical piece of information, and NAWQA needs to know more.17 Also shown by this survey was that some users of NAWQA information are dissatisfied with that information (Figure 2-14). Additional insights into the reasons for the dissatisfaction would be useful to the program. 17 NAWQA's Customer Satisfaction Survey in 2000 showed a similar result (46 percent of NAWQA stakeholders used NAWQA information for "policy development and decision- making") but, given the differences in the two surveys, the committee is reluctant to compare results from the two.

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 105 Regularly 2 Frequently 11 Occasionally 75 Never 12 0 25 50 75 100 Percentages FIGURE 4-2 The 2010 Customer Satisfaction Survey indicated NAWQA users "oc- casionally" visit the NAWQA website. SOURCE: USGS, personal communication. Beyond formal tracking of communication efforts, multiple tools are needed to capture the impact of Figure NAWQA 4-2products and information. For example, this might include a quantitative bibliometric analysis of publica- tions or a formal assessment of website access and downloads, building on the information in Figure 3-1 of this report. Currently, one of the primary mechanisms for tracking program impact is a document titled The National Water-Quality Assessment Program--Science to Policy and Management. This document is available to the public through a live link on the NAWQA website's home page and is frequently updated by NAWQA personnel. Testimony in the document is a valuable indicator of program impact; in- deed, information from the document is sprinkled throughout this report. However, NAWQA should further highlight this document or the informa- tion contained therein, perhaps with a designated web page on program impact, to emphasize the value of NAWQA information to a variety of users. An opportunity also exists to dovetail this type of information with that gleaned from a more formal mechanism in order to track the success and impact of the program. In presentations to the committee, NAWQA leadership indicated a continued commitment to the NAWQA website, specifically promoting its availability such as through product-releases and links to related websites and organizations. This is a commitment the committee supports. The committee also supports continued development of innovative web-based dissemination tools such as video podcasts. Although the 2010 survey in- dicates they are not widely viewed, video podcasts are a new tool and the survey is only one assessment of their success. A more formalized mecha- nism for tracking the NAWQA public relationship portfolio will further

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106 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM Policy development 45 Resource assessment 44 Drinking water protection 39 Stream protection 39 Outreach/education 37 Water supply/use 37 General interest 33 Human health 28 Regulation 26 Standards and criteria 24 Monitoring strategies 23 Permitting 22 Land-use planning 17 Academic research 17 Sampling protocols 14 Wastewater treatment 11 Recreation 6 0 10 20 30 40 50 Percentages FIGURE 4-3 The 2010 Customer Satisfaction Survey indicated 45 percent of us- ers use NAWQA information for policy development. SOURCE: USGS, personal communication. Figure 4-3

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THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF NAWQA 107 determine the utility of these and other web-based efforts. Given the explo- sion of social media, the sense of the committee is that video podcasts are worth pursuing, when appropriate. The committee acknowledged NAWQA's data warehouse and other tools to bring raw water-quality data to the public as an accomplishment in Chapter 3. However, the data warehouse is not nearly as user-friendly as, for example, the SPARROW Decision Support System interface (Box 4-1). Perhaps this is the reason that the Customer Satisfaction Survey re- spondents rarely use the data warehouse. The volume of data and the as- sociated supporting data and metadata continue to expand exponentially, and NAWQA needs to ensure that it has a process for keeping up with these data and providing them to users (within and outside the agency) in a coherent manner. The data warehouse interface design should be evaluated and improved, with significant user input as to what should be included and how it should be presented. It will also need constant updating and adjust- ing. Although the committee considers development of the data warehouse to be an accomplishment, further efforts to improve the data warehouse interface are needed. NAWQA should also look for innovative ways to ensure that data in- terpretation, synthesis, and publication take place in a timely manner. The committee acknowledges the difficulty of this task given the sheer size of the datasets that NAWQA scientists publish, the intense yet valuable USGS peer-review process, and resource constraints. Suggestions include the use of postdoctoral scientists, internship students, interagency collaborators, or the addition of staff dedicated to this endeavor. Perhaps increasing the availability of NAWQA data through the Internet would suffice, while the more time-intensive efforts (i.e., interpretation, synthesis, and publication) continue. Timely interpretation, synthesis, and release of NAWQA results is critical. NAWQA data used in these results should continue to be delivered to the public via an improved public database. The committee believes it is critical to identify and document the cases where NAWQA data and analysis have influenced policy and decision making. Ultimately, tracking impact will allow NAWQA to demonstrate significance and the return on the nation's investment. Making a slice of this information available to the public could attract new users. A unified strategy for the timely preparation, release, and subsequent tracking of the impact of NAWQA information and products is needed. The committee realizes an effort such as this will require resources during a time when resources are stretched thin and encourages the use of the USGS Office of Public Affairs, when appropriate. The benefit of this exercise will far out- weigh the associated challenges.

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108 PREPARING FOR THE THIRD DECADE OF THE NAWQA PROGRAM CONSEQUENCES OF PRIORITIZATION OF OBJECTIVES In an ideal world, there would be sufficient resources to implement the Cycle 3 Science Plan. Recognizing that some objectives are more directly related to NAWQA's core functions than others, the committee believed it important to parse the Science Plan into what components are essential, need further justification, and are important but not essential to NAWQA's overall mission and goals. There are consequences of failing to implement the Science Plan in its entirety. For example, some of the activities sur- rounding the important but not essential objectives could be viewed as more policy relevant, intellectually challenging, and professionally satisfy- ing than many of the activities associated with the essential objectives. This may have consequences as to the quality, productivity, and morale of the workforce. The impact of not studying all the process-oriented objectives in Goals 2 and 3 may limit the full development and accuracy of the models, because those processes may not be well characterized by current models. Objectives of least importance are those that could be addressed by others (states, academia, etc.) or are very regional in scale. Not addressing these objectives could mean they are never addressed. Finally, the committee recognizes that this Science Plan and NAWQA itself will continue to adapt to change and some of the objectives could be phased in or addressed later in the decade. Other opportunities may arise to implement objectives through innovative collaborations with the many partners within USGS, the federal government, states, academe, and non- governmental organizations. Given the likelihood that NAWQA will have insufficient funding to proceed with the full scope of the Cycle 3 Science Plan, these opportunities should be actively identified and pursued.