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 forecasts 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. Environmental 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 realities 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 resource 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 competing stakeholder demands?