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E:cealtive Summary Human health and environmental health are inextricably linked to our nation's water quality. As our population grows and our water resources become intensively developed and stressed, water quality becomes a more important component of our political, economic, social, and environmental decisionmaking. Such deci- sionmaking cannot proceed without adequate information and understanding. There has been a general lack of understanding among deci- sionmakers concerning the importance of water quality monitoring and assessment. Often monitoring and assessment have been included as supporting elements for "action programs" within other Budget categories at a low level of effort. However, there has been a gradual realization in Congress and within state and local gov- ernments that a well-planned, reliable water quality assessment program needs to be an integral part of any acceptable water resources strategy. To provide the kind of information needed about the quality of the nation's waters to Congress and the citizens of the nation, in 1984 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) proposed a concept for a national water quality assessment. The program was designed to: 1. provide a nationally consistent description of current water quality conditions for a large part of the nation's water resources; 2. define long-term trends (or lack of trends) in water quality; and 3. identify, describe, and explain, to the extent possible, the major factors that affect observed water quality conditions and trends. This type of information would be obtained on a continuing basis and would be made available to water managers, policy- makers, and the public to provide an improved scientific basis for evaluating the effectiveness of water quality management programs

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2 NAWQA Pilot Program and for predicting the likely effects of changes in land and water management practices. In 1986, Congress authorized the USGS to test and refine concepts for a national water quality assessment program. In April 1986, based on instructions from the Department of the Interior to test and refine the program, the USGS initiated the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program, consisting of seven pilot projects: four associated primarily with surface water and three focused on ground water. A National Coordina- ting Work Group (see Appendix D) was also established for the pilot program; it was made up of members of federal agencies and nonfederal organizations having an involvement or interest in water quality information. A local liaison committee was also created for each individual pilot project and consisted of represen- tatives from key federal, state, and local agencies and private organizations involved in water and land management within the area of each project. The program is to be executed through a large set of separate Investigations of river basins and aquifer systems, referred to as study units. The USGS postulated that by performing NAWQA as an aggregation of many individual study units, the assessment would provide results that would be useful in understanding and managing the water resources of the study unit, and in answering national-scale questions about current conditions, trends, and factors that affect water quality. Further, the program is to focus on conditions that are large scale and persistent in time. Emphasis is to be placed on regional degradation of water quality such as might occur from both nonpoint and point sources of contaminants. In addition to collecting water quality data, the NAWQA program is designed to take advantage of water quality informa- tion compiled by other agencies for various purposes. Thus, one of the first activities within each study unit is to collate and interpret the available data to (1) provide an initial description of water quality conditions, (2) develop hypotheses about major factors influencing water quality, and (3) define data needs. Because of the emphasis on trends in water quality, the pro- gram is to be perennial, recognizing that the emergence of new hydrologic knowledge, improved methods of measurement, and changes in the types of contaminants of concern might require that the program be appropriately modified. The program is to place a high emphasis on repetition of measurements over time and on documentation of the methods of data collection and analysis and of the locations and characteristics of data-collection sites. .

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Executive Summary 3 COMMITTEE SCOPE OF WORK In 1987, the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) of the National Research Council (NRC) was requested to undertake a 2-year evaluation of the NAWQA Pilot Program and to make recommendations concerning implementation of a full-scale pro- gram, including its potential usefulness 'for establishing and evalua- ting national policies. The NRC was also asked to consider the program's usefulness to state, local, and private entities for making decisions affecting water resources, and its usefulness in advancing the scientific understanding of water quality. Implicit throughout this evaluation has been an appraisal of the extent to which water-quality information programs, including the NAWQA program, can be expected to: 1. provide a more comprehensive water-quality assessment than either existing efforts or feasible alternative programs, and 2. support more effective and efficient management of nation's the water resources. The NRC appointed a committee to review the NAWQA pilot program in 1988. In September 1989, the committee issued an interim report to provide midcourse advice to the USGS on certain NAWQA program components (see Appendix A). During the course of the study, the committee reviewed many documents (see Appendix B); interviewed potential NAWQA users including repre- sentatives of state and the federal governments, the Department of Interior's Office of Policy, Budget and Analysis, and the Office of Management and Budget (see Appendix E); and visited and held 'discussions with USGS pilot project personnel. The committee's deliberations have resulted in the following general findings, conclusions, and recommendations to the USGS. In his FY 1991 budget, President Bush announced his intention to' establish a fully operational NAWQA program. However, a final decision to go to a full-scale program will depend on the outcome of discussions in both houses of Congress. It is the committee's hope that the following recommendations will assist in this en- deavor. GENERAL FINDINGS National Assessment of Water Quality is Needed The committee unanimously agrees that there is a genuine need for a long-term, large spatial scale, national assessment of water

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4 NAUSEA Pilot Program quality in the United States. It will need to evolve over time as our understanding and data bases increase. While there is much completed and ongoing research focusing on cause-effect water quality relationships, this research tends to be directed toward smaller-scale understanding. Relatively less is known about the behavior of large systems, such as entire river basins or aquifer systems. For this reason, a national assessment is a particularly timely undertaking. Such an assessment will face a number of difficulties. It must be of vast scope, it must be highly multidisciplinary, it will need to be well coordinated with the activities of many different organiza- tions, and it will require many experienced, high-quality personnel provided with adequate time and resources. Uniform national analyses or rigorous probabilistic generalizations cannot be ex- pected when a national scope is achieved by assembling a com- posite of regional or smaller-scale analyses. Implementing a national water quality assessment using consis- tent data collection, analysis, and reporting procedures is essential if this nation is to effectively and efficiently maintain, manage, and protect our water resources. Such an assessment must go well beyond mere monitoring and data collection to focus on developing understanding of cause and effect relationships. It should be process-oriented, long-term, highly adaptable, and of large spatial scale. USGS is Appropriate Agency to Conduct Assessment As stated in the committee's interim report of September 1989 (see Appendix A), the USGS is ideally suited to provide leadership in an assessment of our nation's waters. The agency's overall mission is to provide information that will assist resource managers and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels in making sound decisions. The NAWQA program is directed to an assessment of the freshwater systems of the nation, which comprise the major portion of our water resources. The USGS is well qualified to implement such a program; however, they need to recognize that additional critical elements must be incorporated in the present plan. The USGS has a long history of monitoring freshwater systems (both surface water and ground water), and, more importantly, it has experience in addressing both quantity and quality aspects of water resources problems. Because of its nonregulatory nature, this agency can offer a more objective perspective to both the regional ,,

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Executive Summary and national assessments. Furthermore, the USGS has an excellent reputation in data collection at the national, state, and local levels and has cooperated well with responsible agencies at these levels. While acknowledging the suitability of the USGS to perform the task, the committee also recognizes that the Survey has limita- tions. Relatively few limnological studies have been performed, and only recently have biological investigations been initiated. Ot equal or greater importance is that the USGS has experience in surface water quality modeling, an essential element in defining cause and effect relationships. Another feature of the USGS, which is both a strength and a weakness, is its diffusion of responsibility to its district offices. These offices, which have operated for many years in close coor- dination with individual states and local governmental bodies, are 5 quite autonomous in how they design and conduct their projects. Local needs and problems have predominated in these investiga- tions, and the committee believes that it will toe difficult to refocus some of the study unit teams toward developing a national assess- ment. However, in spite of these difficulties, the committee is confi- dent that the USGS will make the necessary adjustments, hire and train new specialists, and develop the additional techniques re- quired to fully accomplish the NAWQA goals. Integration of Surface Water and Ground Water Study Units has Improved Usefulness of NAWQA In its interim report, the committee suggested that an integrated approach be used whereby study units would be selected so as to involve a joint investigation of surface and ground waters. As a result, the USGS redefined their concept of study units to include this approach. The emphasis on integrated study units will result in an im- proved NAWQA program by enabling it to examine the water quality of an integrated hydrologic system. One of the important aspects of the NAWQA program is an understanding of water quality cause and effect relationships, and the committee believes that this approach will enhance such understanding. It will also allow investigators to ascertain the physics of the system to a greater extent than before and to extrapolate new findings to other parts of the country. The USGS plans to use teams of both sur- face- and ground-water specialists to develop an understanding of the interrelationships among surface waters, ground waters, and

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6 NAWQA Pilot Program the water quality constituents carried by those waters. To the extent that these reviews are successful, they should enable better planning of new projects as they are initiated. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Study Unit Selection The 60 identified study units (Table 2.1), each involving con- siderations of both surface water and ground water, represent a variety of hydrologic regions and a broad coverage in terms of geographical area and water withdrawal. Some of the study units are quite large, much larger than any of the seven pilot project study units, but in general, the largest study units are in areas of low population. In selecting the study units, consideration was appropriately given to including those aquifers already being investigated under the USGS Regional Aquifer System Analysis (RASA) program, which emphasizes physical hydrology; this should result in some degree of synergism and aid in delineating cause and effect relationships. Recommendation To determine whether a large study unit presents any problem with respect to the proposed sampling protocol and data management, it is recommended that in initiating the full-scale NAWQA program, the USGS include two large study units for investigation. Lakes and Estuaries It is in the nation's best interest to monitor, assess, ant! under- stand the water quality of its lakes and estuaries and the impacts of lakes on the water quality of other hydrologic systems. Recommendations The committee believes that an assessment of the long-term trends in the water quality of lakes (including impoundments) and estuaries should be part of any long-term national water quality assessment. At some point, the water quality of lakes should receive the same level of attention in the NAWQA program as that

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Executive Summary of streams and ground water. However, given the present lack of personnel in the USGS with expertise in the biological and chemi- cal modeling of lakes and estuaries, we believe that the NAWQA program should not be expanded at this juncture to include es- tuaries. In addition, we recommend that initially lakes should be considered but only as they affect downstream surface water quality or downgradient ground water quality. The committee further recommends that the first set of investigations in the NAWQA program include one or more study units in which lakes are likely to be significant contributors to downstream and/or downgradient water quality. Additionally, we recommend that mathematical models be developed at the initial stages of each study unit investigation involving lakes. Sampling Approach-Surface Water/Ground Water 7 Surface water sampling will consist of fixed stations, along with synoptic and selected reach studies. The incorporation of sampling at times of high flow and synoptic sampling are viewed as unique and worthwhile aspects of NAWQA, not included in other water quality monitoring programs. The strategy for sampling ground waters generally seems adequate. However, in locating sampling wells, special attention must be given to coverage, particularly in the case of a large study unit and where the physical characteristics of a given aquifer may vary with distance. Recommendation Because each study unit represents a hydrologic system encompassing both surface water and ground water, it is recom- mended that the sampling strategy be reviewed to ensure that comparable procedures, estimation techniques, and precision levels are employed for proper interpretation. Although the sampling program may not require a major redesign it should include con- sideration of: (1) the distribution and location of sampling sites for surface water and ground water, (2) quantification of the interaction between surface water and ground water, and (3) the water quality implications of these interactions.

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8 NAWQA Pilot Program Rotational Versus Continual Assessment There are several reasons for adopting a rotational rather than a continual data collection and analysis approach. First, given limited resources, it may be preferable to have cyclical data on a larger number of study units than to have continual monitoring data for a smaller number of study units. Second, the conditions and trends that NAWQA is concerned with develop relatively slowly. Third, the USGS has emphasized that NAWQA is designed to be not only a long-term monitoring program (for which con- tinual data collection and interpretation might be appropriate) but also an assessment of water quality trends. While NAWQA is intended to assess water quality conditions and trends, it is also designed to develop scientific understanding of the factors that affect those conditions and trends. The em- phasis of the NAWQA program is on producing timely interpreta- tive products focused on specific topics of regional and national interest. Recommendation While the committee agrees with the rationale for the rotational assessment approach, it is recommended that the dura- tion and staging aspects be reevaluated by the USGS and an external scientific advisory committee after the first cycle of 20 study units is completed. The committee recommends that exten- sions of intensive study be granted only for issues that are truly regional or national in scope. In addition, the committee recom- mends that the mathematical models for each study unit be se- lected in the first year of the cycle as part of the planning effort. Choice of Chemical Constituents The committee agrees with the choice of chemical and physical constituents selected for the NAWQA pilot program. The consis- tent water quality data base across the nation will be a real strength of the program. In addition, the flexibility of NAWQA to add constituents of local or regional interest will facilitate the identification of emerging water quality issues. Recommendations The EPA's dioxin data, as well as other pertinent water quality data, should be included in the USGS retrospective reports.

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Executive Summary A strong coordination role should be created to manage the integration of ecological with chemical and physical data~collec- . . talon. An external scientific advisory committee should review the constituents that are added at the regional level to determine whether a regional water quality problem is really a national problem. The USGS should establish a library archive of spectro- scopic fingerprints of selected water samples. Choice of Biological Constituents The biological component of NAWQA consists of three parts: 9 assessment of sanitary quality by measuring fecal contamination, analysis of contaminants in tissues, and ecological surveys. Proto- cols for doing these assessments have been developed, but there has been very limited field testing of the protocols during the pilot studies. The committee has only been able to examine data on fecal contamination. Fecal contamination will be assessed with the Escherichia cold test. The use of this method will limit the ability of NAWQA teams to relate their data to historical patterns of fecal contamina- tion or to current monitoring efforts because other assessment techniques are more commonly used. The NAWQA protocol for analysis of organic and inorganic contaminants in biological tissues is well conceived. It will fill a void in existing tissue monitoring programs. The ecological survey will use a core set of measurements (algal biomass; invertebrate, and fish samples) to document the current status and long-term trends in biological communities. Sampling protocols have been devised, but no examples have been provided as to how these data will be analyzed, even at the study-unit scale. The inclusion of an ecological survey is a valuable addition to NAWQA. Measurements of rates of biogeochemical processes controlling concentrations of elements in water will not be a routine part of NAWQA. The absence of these measures will reduce the ability of NAWQA to develop mechanistic models and to understand cause and effect relationships. Recommendations The sanitary quality of water should be determined using both the E. cold test and the standard fecal coliform test.

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10 NAWQA Pilot Program To provide a measure of temporal variation in sanitary quality, the committee recommends including monthly coliform tests at a limited number of fixed stations in study units where such contamination is a potential problem. The USGS should adopt protocols for archiving and main- taining tissue samples and should devise protocols to guide site personnel in selecting how many and which samples to archive. Because the pilot projects have provided few data with which to evaluate the ability of the tissue monitoring and ecolog cat survey efforts to meet the stated objectives, the committee recommends that another external science advisory committee review this component of the program when more data are avail- able. Quality Assurance/Quality Control . 1 Federal agencies do not always collect consistent water quality data. For example, the EPA 305b program leaves to each state the definition of water quality issues. The NAWQA program has an advantage over this program because four USGS regions coordinate data collection protocols and methods. The proposed quality assurance plan of NAWQA is a sound approach for managing the data bases to ensure utility and lon- gevity beyond the first rotation of sites. In the full NAWQA program, periodic data base reviews will need to be continued to ensure completeness and accuracy of data. The quality assurance program is one of NAWQA's strengths. Consistency of sampling protocols and data collection will aid in analysis and will be essential for timely and meaningful interpreta- tion and synthesis. Recommendations It is important that the USGS headquarters person in charge of quality assurance be in regular communication with the four regional NAWQA quality assurance personnel to coordinate their activities closely. This will ensure that comparable standards and practices are being used across the full NAWQA network of sites. In the full-scale NAWQA program, periodic data base reviews will need to be continued to ensure completeness and accuracy of quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) data.

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Executive Summary 11 The results of all the pilot project audits should be reviewed for recurring areas of concern--particularly with monitoring for low- level organic compounds. The committee would like to see more coordination of the NAWQA program with other agencies, especially in such areas as uniformity of water quality parameters monitored and more consis- tent sampling and analytical techniques. After a full NAWQA program is operational, the USGS should determine how much overlap exists between NAWQA and EPA's 305(b) program. Both agencies should have access to the data from these two programs. Data Management For data management (i.e., data documentation, collection, archiving, ant! retrieval) the pilot studies have used WATSTORE (the USGS National Water Data Storage Retrieval System) and the National Water Information System (NWIS) data bases, which are periodically transferred to EPA's STORET system. A new NWIS-2 is being designed and is targeted for operation in FY 1992. The development of this system is currently under way as part of the upgrading of computer resources for the Water Resources Division of USGS and should be available for the full NAWQA program. The NAWQA criterion for acceptable storage and documen- tation is that data records and documentation will be interpretable by a subsequent project team 6 or more years after completion of the initial investigation. The data management plan for the eco- logical survey is currently being revised. Sharing information and data files between the USGS and the scientific community would be facilitated if USGS personnel had access to Internet, a collection of local networks (campus, govern- mental, and industrial) linked by regional networks and attached to a national backbone (NSF Net). The purpose of Internet is to provide high-speed communication to members of the scientific community and to provide access to remote computing resources. Recommendations The committee endorses the revamping of WATSTORE and encourages the USGS to work quickly to develop and implement their new national water information system. USGS personnel should have access to the broader scientific community via Internet.

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12 NAWQA Pilot Program Analytical Framework An important feature that appears to be lacking from the overall NAWQA program, particularly the regional pilot studies, is a quantitative and analytical framework that identifies the principal cause and effect relationships. The link between sources, both point and distributed, and the water quality response of a particular system, can be provided by a mathematical model that defines the spatial and temporary distribution of the concentration of relevant water quality constituents. Mathematical modeling can be used in all phases of water quality assessment, including design of the monitoring program, analysis of data, and evaluation of past and potential management options. Of particular importance is the interactive nature of modeling and data collection. These activities are mutually sup- portive, and each should evolve throughout the assessment process. This will lead to a better assessment, as well as to an improved understanding of the relevant physical, chemical, and biological processes. Recommendations In the short term, the USGS should make use of existing models. Because the USGS has relatively little experience with existing surface-water models, it will need to begin immediately to provide or obtain the necessary training. There is also a critical need to determine what data are required by these models, since the current NAWQA design may not include the necessary data. As an example, there is no plan to collect meteorological data, which will be essential for watershed models of water quality. During the first round of intensive monitoring, the leading water-quality models should be applied over a wide range of situations. This would not only enhance the assessment effort but would also provide valuable information on the capabilities of the models. In addition, the committee recommends that a midcourse model eval- uation be built into the assessment cycle so that corrections to the models can be made in sufficient time. Over the long term, the USGS should develop a coherent strategy for water-quality modeling in the context of large-scale assessment, addressing such issues as scale, model complexity, and surface- and ground-water interactions. This should be done (to the fullest extent possible) in cooperation with other federal agen- cies, particularly with the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Executive Summary Products The committee is most concerned with the relatively narrow scope of the five retrospective studies that were available for review. While the study-unit teams appear to have been thorough 13 in identifying and acquiring available data, the extent of their investigations was quite limited. In particular, the investigations focused largely on ambient water quality data in streams and aquifers. Data on sources of contamination were not collected and analyzed, in spite of the availability of extensive data bases (e.g., EPA,s Permit Compliance System and Industrial Facility Reports). Because of the timing of the committee's review, no NAWQA reports presenting results at either the study-unit or synthesis level were available for review, with the exception of five retrospective reports. Recommendations The committee recommends that the concept of a retro- spective report be expanded to include data on known sources of water quality~constituents, existing studies of water quality pro- cesses within the study unit, and previously developed conceptual and mathematical models of the physical, chemical, and biological processes influencing water quality in the study unit. The committee encourages the USGS to be vigilant and creative in seeking ways to minimize the time required to publish the National Water Quality Assessment findings. The committee urges the USGS to assure that adequate resources are directed toward reports describing the results of cause and effect analyses. NRC Committee-Initiated Case Study To obtain a sharper focus on how cause and effect analysis would be conducted under the NAWQA program, the committee requested in the summer of 1989 a special study of the effects of changes in wastewater treatment on the downstream water quality of the Illinois River. This request resulted in a USGS open file report (see Appendix B. #59) and three articles on the topic to be published in Water Environment and Technology, the journal of the Water Pollution Control Federation. NAWQA personnel did a thorough evaluation of quality control problems with the existing data; however, they have not yet done

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14 NAWQA Pilot Program the requested analysis of cause and effect relationships for this test study area. Thus the committee cannot evaluate how cause and effect analysis is to be accomplished under the NAWQA program. Recommendation The USGS should intensify its cause and effect assessment activities and should provide complete case studies and a coherent national methodology for doing cause and effect assessments. This initial effort should utilize all available data and not be restricted to data generated by the NAWQA monitoring program. The results of this effort should be reviewed by an external advisory group of scientists. Implementation, Coordination, and National Synthesis The activities of NAWQA are focused largely on the study- unit level. A nationally consistent set of analyses will be per- formed anti aggregated to provide assessments at a regional and national scale. The process for synthesizing will employ an array of study teams 'bosh inside and outside USGS, e.g., issue-based 'synthesis teams, national synthesis team, and the National Coor- dinating Work Group. What is missing is an ongoing, external, scientific advisory committee to review NAWQA's progress. Current and proposed national water quality monitoring and assessment activities by the federal water agencies contribute a significant and worthwhile component of water resources manage- ment activities. However, although interagency cooperative agree- ments have existed since 1967, no federal interagency master plan has been available to ensure that existing and proposed monitoring activities will provide the basis for a comprehensive national water quality assessment program. Also missing is an effective inter- agency committee among those federal agencies now performing water quality assessments. Recommendations Implementation and Coordination The USGS should establish an external scientific advisory committee to provide an ongoing, independent review of the NAWQA program. This committee should consider the recommen-

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Executive Summary cations made by this NRC committee and should monitor the progress of NAWQA toward a truly national assessment of water quality. The USGS should establish an interagency council on national water quality assessment to review the activities of the various agencies that gather water quality data and to identify data gaps and duplication. Membership on this council should include representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Environ- mental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Depart- ment of Agriculture, the Council on Environmental Quality, and others as appropriate. During its first two years of activity, this council might consider accomplishing the following tasks: 1. Prepare a detailed inventory of current water quality moni- toring and assessment activities of the federal agencies. This inventory should be a greatly expanded and improved version of Table 3.1 of this report. This inventory should include accurate estimates on the current expenditures of the agencies for water quality related activities. 2. Prepare an action plan of how overall agency programs will perform national water quality assessments by: a. issue, e.g., wastewater treatment, pesticides, nutrients; b. receiving water bodies, i.e., rivers, lakes and impoundments, estuaries, and wetlands; c. beneficial uses, e.g., water supply, recreation, and fish and wildlife protection; and d. type of water quality constituent, i.e., physical, chemical, or biological. 15 National Synthesis The committee recommends that the USGS pursue its proposed use of issue-based and national synthesis teams to achieve a national-level synthesis of the information and knowledge at the study-unit scale. These teams should have regular communication with the study-unit teams, and should be given the authority to influence the activities of these teams. In addition, the teams should be led by the most capable and experienced personnel, and they should not restrict their vision only to USGS data and infor- mation. A strong review process with broad input should be put in place to assure wise choice of regional and national issues. ~ The selection of national issues should be made with input from a broad spectrum of interested federal agencies, professional societies, private industry, and academia.