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Introduction

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has addressed problems related to the contamination of surface waters and ground waters since shortly after its establishment by Congress in 1879. As former USGS hydrologist Walter Langbein recounts (1981), the first USGS paper on the quality of water concerned the use of sewage for irrigation (Rafter, 1897). Studies on the effects of waterborne contaminants have continued to be a focus of the USGS, especially its Water Resources Division (WRD), which was formed in 1949. (The 1949 date is deceptively late. Forerunners of the WRD, the “Irrigation Survey”, the “Hydrologic Branch”, and the “Water Resources Branch” date from before 1900.)

During the early part of this century, the majority of the contaminant-related work by the USGS was done under the auspices of the Federal-State Cooperative Program (Langbein, 1981). This program, in which the federal investment is matched by a cooperator (typically a state), but in which the work is performed by USGS personnel, addresses a variety of problems of local urgency (e.g., sewage discharges, waste storage, urban runoff, etc.). From the mid-1950's to the early 1970 's, the research program of the USGS WRD burgeoned (Langbein, 1981). In that era, federal programs within the USGS grew as did the work done for other federal agencies. Subsequent to the 1970s, WRD programs in hazardous materials science and technology have diversified and come into their own as the “bread and butter” of the USGS. The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program was established in 1983, the Nuclear Waste Hydrology Program was established as a separate program in 1985 (although the WRD has had a significant effort in this area since the early



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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey 1 Introduction The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has addressed problems related to the contamination of surface waters and ground waters since shortly after its establishment by Congress in 1879. As former USGS hydrologist Walter Langbein recounts (1981), the first USGS paper on the quality of water concerned the use of sewage for irrigation (Rafter, 1897). Studies on the effects of waterborne contaminants have continued to be a focus of the USGS, especially its Water Resources Division (WRD), which was formed in 1949. (The 1949 date is deceptively late. Forerunners of the WRD, the “Irrigation Survey”, the “Hydrologic Branch”, and the “Water Resources Branch” date from before 1900.) During the early part of this century, the majority of the contaminant-related work by the USGS was done under the auspices of the Federal-State Cooperative Program (Langbein, 1981). This program, in which the federal investment is matched by a cooperator (typically a state), but in which the work is performed by USGS personnel, addresses a variety of problems of local urgency (e.g., sewage discharges, waste storage, urban runoff, etc.). From the mid-1950's to the early 1970 's, the research program of the USGS WRD burgeoned (Langbein, 1981). In that era, federal programs within the USGS grew as did the work done for other federal agencies. Subsequent to the 1970s, WRD programs in hazardous materials science and technology have diversified and come into their own as the “bread and butter” of the USGS. The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program was established in 1983, the Nuclear Waste Hydrology Program was established as a separate program in 1985 (although the WRD has had a significant effort in this area since the early

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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey 1960s), and the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program was established as a pilot program in 1986 and as a full-scale program in 1991. Langbein (1981) pointed out the increasingly important niche that was being occupied by studies related to water quality within research programs of the WRD: Over the years there has been a considerable change in the subject matter of research due mainly to corresponding changes in the nation 's water problems, especially water quality. Fortunately, the division began to broaden its research in the 1960's with research into water chemistry as such, and soon expanded the scope to include geochemical relations. During the 1950's nuclear bomb testing and the resulting radioactive fallout, and the environmental movement set in motion in the late 1960's both created a vast explosion of interest in water quality, so that it is now the dominant feature of the division' s research and includes not only the physical and chemical properties of water, but the biological and ecological as well. The USGS focus on developing the geoscience knowledge base that is required to address the difficult problems facing the nation regarding the need to maintain good quality waters can be seen as part of a broad effort by many federal, state, and local agencies to come to grips with issues related to the disposal and inadvertent releases of hazardous materials in the natural environment. (In this report, the term “hazardous material” refers to any substance that poses a substantial risk to human health or the environment as a result of contamination of water, air, or soil.) In this sense, several programs of the USGS are related to the science and technology of dealing with hazardous materials in our society. The role of the USGS in the hazardous materials arena lies squarely in the geosciences, the traditional strength of the USGS. The remediation of sites that have already been contaminated is a daunting task. In addition, the development of new sites for disposal of wastes, the determination of allowable discharges into waterways, and the assessment of the efficacy of remediation efforts must proceed with the very best

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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey scientific and technical base if the mistakes of the past are to be avoided in the future. The potential roles for the USGS in addressing these serious national problems draw on the experience that the USGS has developed over many decades (Figure 1-1). Recognizing that problems related to hazardous materials research and technology are both national and international in scope, and that the USGS is an agency charged with providing information to resolve important water-related problems of the nation, the Committee on USGS Water Resources Research undertook a review of the research efforts and an assessment of the directions the WRD should take in this area. In support of the USGS's general objective to expand the body of scientific knowledge relevant to hazardous materials and their behavior in the environment, this project sought to: help establish an overall framework for the USGS's research plan; identify critical research areas for the coming decade; advise on educational opportunities in the context of research; provide guidance on processes and measures for evaluating the success of research in this area; and advise on improved approaches for involving “consumers” of the science and technology in program planning and the implementation of results. The committee focused much of its attention on the first two items listed above. With regard to educational opportunities, the general advice to the WRD in Preparing for the Twenty-First Century: A Report to the USGS Water Resource Division (National Research Council, 1991) holds in particular for the hazardous materials programs. With regard to measures for evaluating research, the use of peer review is highly recommended. By involving “consumers” of research in the peer review, the process would also serve to address item 5. Some of these items will be discussed more fully in the final chapter of this report, although the bulk of the technical material in this report will concentrate on a discussion of a framework for research and the identification of some critical areas of research.

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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey FIGURE 1.1 Potential roles for the USGS in Hazardous Materials Science and Technology.

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Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of Research by the U.S. Geological Survey The research conducted by the WRD on topics related to hazardous materials is spread over many complex WRD programs (as described in Appendix A). This report is not a detailed review of work within these diverse programs. Rather, the report is a general review that seeks to provide overall strategic perspective. It concentrates on four main themes: the understanding of natural processes that affect the fate and transport of hazardous substances, the understanding of processes that are useful for remediation of contaminated sites, the use of research results in the decision-making process, and methods to assess the success of the various programs in reaching some of the goals within the critical research areas.