Nationwide Strategy for Improving Water-Quality Monitoring
Initial Agency Actions to Improve Monitoring
This is the third and final report of the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality (ITFM). It proposes changes in water-quality monitoring that are needed to support sound decisionmaking at all levels of government and in the private sector. The proposed changes in water-quality monitoring are necessary to obtain a better return on public and private investments in monitoring, environmental protection, and natural-resources management. Implementing the strategy and recommendations is necessary to achieve nationwide water-quality goals to protect human health, to preserve and restore healthy ecological conditions, and to sustain a viable economy. The proposed strategy will expand the base of information useful for multiple purposes and a variety of users. In some cases, ITFM recommendations ratify and encourage ongoing efforts. In other cases, ITFM calls for fundamental changes in the ways that water-quality-monitoring programs are defined, designed, prioritized, conducted, and funded.
The ITFM was formed in early 1992 in response to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum No. 92--01. This memorandum set forth specific requirements to review and evaluate water-quality-monitoring activities nationwide and to recommend improvements. Also, it delegated lead-agency responsibility for water information coordination to the USGS. The OMB memorandum and the Terms of Reference of the ITFM are provided in the ITFM first-year report (Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality, 1992).
The ITFM is a Federal/State or Tribal partnership that includes representatives from 20 Federal, State, Tribal, and interstate organizations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) serves as co-chair, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) serve as co-chair and the executive secretariat. In addition to the 20 officially designated ITFM representatives, more than 150 individuals in Federal and State agencies participate in nine working groups to provide additional perspective and technical expertise. Private sector organizations also participate in the process through the Federal Advisory Committee on Water Data for Public Use, public meetings announced in the Federal Register, and an initiative to promote coordination of ambient and compliance monitoring. The work of the ITFM is sponsored by the Federal interdepartmental Water Information Coordination Program.
The two preceding ITFM reports provide information that will enhance understanding of the recommendations in this final report. In December 1992, the ITFM completed its first-year report, Ambient Water-Quality Monitoring in the United States: First Year Review, Evaluation, and Recommendations. The report focused on the evaluation of current ambient-monitoring efforts and the opportunities for improvement. The report concluded that monitoring programs must keep pace with changing water-management programs, a collaborative strategy is needed to link the many separate monitoring programs, a genuine appreciation of the need for cooperation currently exists among monitoring agencies, and recent advances in technology provide new opportunities for interaction and cooperation. The report recommended that an integrated, voluntary, nationwide strategy should be designed and implemented to improve water-quality monitoring in this country.
The ITFM published its second year report, Water-Quality Monitoring in the United States: 1993 Report of the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality, in June 1994. This report documented the ITFM's recommendations for the technical "building blocks" needed to implement the strategy and presented for public review the supporting technical reports prepared by the ITFM working groups.
These technical reports, which were published as separate appendixes, address monitoring frameworks, environmental indicators, methods comparability, data management and sharing, resource assessment and reporting, and ground-water issues. Also, the second-year report contains information about a pilot project in Wisconsin designed to test ITFM assumptions and recommendations. [See the inside front cover of this present report for information needed to order the previous reports.]
The ITFM recommendations address the full range of aquatic resources, which include ground and surface waters and fresh and marine environments, in the United States. International considerations also are important but are beyond the scope of this report. Canada and Mexico, however, have been very interested in ITFM activities, and the ITFM envisions future work with agencies in other countries. To identify improvements needed to support more effective decisionmaking, the ITFM broadly defined monitoring functions. To identify the multiple elements of a complex subject clearly, the ITFM identified five major purposes for monitoring. Table 1 lists the ITFM consensus definitions for aquatic resources and monitoring functions and the purposes of water-quality monitoring. A glossary of terms used by the ITFM is provided in Technical Appendix A.Table 1. Key Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality Definitions.
Key ITFM definitions Aquatic resources Surface and ground waters, estuaries, and near coastal
waters. Associated aquatic communities and physical habitats,
which include wetlands. Sediments.
Aquatic resources data Physical, which includes quantity.
Associated data needed to interpret the aquatic data,
including habitat, land use, demographics,
contaminant discharges, and other "ancillary"
information,such as atmospheric deposition.
Monitoring program activities Identifying and documenting program goals and
Designing and planning monitoring programs.
Coordinating and collaborating with other monitoring agencies.
Selecting environmental indicators.
Locating appropriate monitoring sites.
Selecting data-collection methods.
Collecting field observations and samples.
Analyzing samples in laboratories.
Developing and operating quality-assurance programs.
Storing, managing, and sharing data.
Interpreting and assessing data to produce useful
Reporting and distributing monitoring results to
Evaluating the effectiveness of monitoring programs.
Purposes of monitoring Assessing status and trends (includes spatial and
Characterizing and ranking existing and emerging problems.
Designing and implementing programs and projects.
Evaluating program and project effectiveness.
Responding to emergencies (ITFM did not address).
Control of water pollution became a major environmental priority during the last three decades, and in response, water-quality monitoring has expanded rapidly. In the 1970's, Federal and State governments began requiring the regulated community---industry, public water suppliers, municipalities, and others---to monitor water quality. The resulting data are being used to demonstrate compliance with pollution-control permits and to obtain information required to estimate pollution loading from human sources into the environment. Today, tens of thousands of public and private organizations spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on compliance monitoring.
These important compliance-monitoring efforts focus on well-defined sources of pollution, such as industrial facilities, sewage-treatment plants, or waste-disposal sites. The primary intent is to characterize the concentrations of water-quality constituents at their sources, or "the ends of pipes." In part, point-source concentrations of pollution were the initial focus of regulatory monitoring because knowledge of the interactions between human activities and natural systems was more limited than it is today. Point sources are easier to define and monitor compared with nonpoint sources. As a result, more money has been spent on point-source-compliance monitoring than on either nonpoint or ambient monitoring. As a further result, few ambient-monitoring programs assessed overall water quality and the causes and sources of nonpoint-source and habitat problems.
When it became widely apparent in the late 1980's that water-quality protection and management goals could not be achieved without considering point and nonpoint sources of pollution, as well as habitat degradation, the need to reshape the overall monitoring strategy became clear. Thus, the public and the private sectors have initiated several new ambient-monitoring and assessment efforts (Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality, 1992). However, significant gaps remained, and until the ITFM effort, coordination among the various new programs was uneven. Today, agreement is widespread that existing data programs cannot be added together to provide all the information needed to answer the more recent complex questions about national or regional water quality (National Research Council, 1987, 1990a, b; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1987; Knopman and Smith, 1992). Wide recognition of the need to improve water-quality monitoring to accomplish clearly defined objectives and to obtain better ambient and compliance information has bolstered the ITFM's efforts to develop a strategy.
Fortunately, technology has advanced during the last 25 years. Better tools and knowledge are now available, and a monitoring strategy can now be created to support the development of policies and programs that target available resources to priority problems within watersheds, ecosystems, and specific geographic areas. It is now possible to develop a monitoring strategy that will be useful for evaluating the effectiveness of resource-management and environmental protection actions. Monitoring to evaluate program effectiveness is needed not only to protect human health and ecosystems, but also to ensure that money is spent wisely. From 1972 through 1986, the total public and private costs for water-pollution abatement exceeded $500 billion (Carlin and the Environmental Law Institute, 1990), and by the end of this century, hundreds of billions of dollars more will be spent (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1990).
Institutional and technical changes are needed to improve water-quality monitoring and to meet the full range of monitoring requirements. The proposed strategy provides a long-term blueprint for making the changes that are needed. As more organizations adopt the recommendations and become partners in implementing the strategy, the nationwide capability to assess water-quality conditions will grow. As a result, the information gathered from implementing the strategy will be greater than the sum of the measurements produced by individual organizations.
Water-quality monitoring provides an objective source of information to answer questions that support the wise management of vital water resources. Appropriate ambient and compliance monitoring provides the basis for informed management throughout the decisionmaking process (Figure 1 below). Adequate monitoring is needed at many scales---site, watershed, State, Tribal, regional, and national. Historically, some questions have been difficult or impossible to answer, especially at the regional and the national scales. Improved monitoring is needed to assess the quality of essentially all the Nation's water resources in a targeted way that will provide quantitative answers to the following questions:
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Figure 1. Relation of monitoring purposes and management actions.
Monitoring programs over the past 3 decades have provided large amounts of data; many of these data have not been analyzed to provide water-quality managers and regulators with the information needed to manage water resources relative to the questions listed above. One potential explanation for this lack of data analysis is a limited appreciation of the uses and the users are of water-quality information. In fact, monitoring information is used by Federal, State, and Tribal governments; legislators; regulators and natural-resources managers; private industry; scientists; academia; and the general public. Users and uses of water-quality information include the following:
The ITFM members have found that there are opportunities to improve current water-quality-monitoring efforts nationwide in the public and the private sectors. Although many individual monitoring networks have been well designed to meet their own goals, data solely from these networks often will not provide a broad and comprehensive assessment of water quality at national, interstate, State, Tribal, or watershed scales. Also, data from some of the net-works cannot be readily shared and integrated to help with similar assessments in related areas. The ITFM identified several kinds of problems for which changes are recommended in later sections of this report. The changes needed are summarized as follows:
To respond to these findings, the ITFM proposes a comprehensive nationwide strategy for water-quality monitoring and resource assessment. Implementation of the following strategy and recommendations by all levels of government and the private sector will make information available in a timely manner to support management decisions and to measure progress towards meeting water-quality goals. The intent is to set in motion a process that makes it advantageous for all data collectors to embrace the proposed changes in monitoring water quality voluntarily and to make the resulting information more useful.
Major recommendations that have resulted from the ITFM's 3-year evaluation of water monitoring in the United States are presented below. Some recommendations are based on longstanding coordinating mechanisms that work, given the existing constraints. Other recommendations propose voluntary intergovernmental and private sector collaboration that takes into consideration specific Federal, State, Tribal, regional, local, and watershed and private interests. Simply put, these recommendations present a nationwide strategy that would improve the ability to monitor, assess, and manage the Nation's water resources at all geographic scales.
The ITFM, as well as the public, endorses the USEPA Office of Water's proposed nationwide water goals. These goals are to protect and enhance public health, to conserve and enhance ecosystems, to meet State water-quality standards, to improve ambient conditions, and to prevent or reduce pollutant loadings. In addition, the quantity and quality of water needed to sustain a viable economy must be provided.
Specific environmental indicators will measure whether or not the goals are being achieved. The ITFM defines an environmental indicator as "a measurable feature which singly or in combination provides managerial and scientifically useful evidence of environmental and ecosystem quality or reliable evidence of trends in quality." Environmental indicators need to be measured by using available technology that is scientifically valid for assessing or documenting ecosystem quality. They also need to provide information upon which resource managers can base decisions and communicate results to the public. Environmental indicators encompass a broad suite of measures that include tools for assessment of physical, chemical/toxicological, and biological/ecological conditions and processes at several scales. Water-quality indicators must explicitly measure the identified goals and relate to State standards. The ITFM has developed some preliminary guidance that includes criteria to assist organizations in selecting indicators for specific goals (see Technical Appendixes D and E). The development of such guidance is continuing in conjunction with the USEPA's 305(b) consistency workgroup, which includes 22 States, 3 Tribes, and other Federal agencies. At the national level, Federal agencies are developing indicators in concert with actions mandated in each Federal agency through the Government Performance Results Act of 1993.
Before significant improvements in water-quality monitoring are implemented, existing monitoring efforts and information need to be identified and evaluated. This evaluation can be structured by attempting to characterize current surface- and ground-water-quality conditions by using available information. Geographic information systems (GIS) can be very helpful in conducting such evaluations and presenting maps and analyses of the spatial relations among the associated information on water bodies. The actual locations of impaired water bodies and the reasons for the impairments should be included if information permits. In addition, special protection areas and waters that are not impaired should be mapped. Special protection waters include endangered species habitats, and impaired waters are those that do not meet water-quality standards. A useful tool for locating and georeferencing surface waters is the USEPA's computerized River Reach File 3 (RF3), which was originally developed by using USGS topographic maps. It is now being adapted for use as a future Federal Information Processing Standard. After mapping and evaluating existing information, monitoring gaps can be identified and ranked by priority. Ranking by priority is important because monitoring gaps that are lower priority and that can not be monitored within available resources can be explicitly acknowledged. Once the initial information is properly structured in a GIS system, new information can be added as it becomes available. Also, the information can be used more easily for many management purposes.
To provide adequate and cost-effective information for resource management and environmental protection, comprehensive assessments of the Nation's ambient water resources are needed; such a comprehensive assessment would use basins rotating in and out of 5 to 10-year cycles in which feasible monitoring designs and monitoring techniques are targeted to the condition of and goals for the water. Ambient-monitoring resources should be targeted at the State or Tribal scale and, as needed, at the regional and the watershed scales and depend on water-quality conditions, designated uses, and goals for the water. The most intense and frequent monitoring should focus on threatened or impaired water bodies. Outstanding natural water resources, endangered species habitats, sole-source aquifers, and other water bodies that are identified for special management and protection should be monitored comprehensively, but less frequently than impaired waters, in periodic cycles every few years. If detrimental changes are detected, however, then more intensive monitoring would be needed. Waters that have been assessed and determined to meet their designated uses and that are not impaired or threatened should be monitored less intensively on a rotational screening basis every 5 to 10-years to confirm that new problems have not emerged. Temporal frequency, spatial density, suites of parameters or indicators, and other design factors should be tailored to the conditions, uses, and goals for the water that is monitored (Table 2 below).
To initiate the flexible and comprehensive monitoring approach described above, Federal, State, and Tribal agencies would need to use key existing information to categorize the surface and ground waters in their jurisdictions by using the criteria discussed above and shown in Table 2. At first, the waters would be assigned to categories on the basis of the information currently available and aggregated into an overall assessment by using GIS. By using the approach recommended, confirmation or adjustments could be made to the characterization of the waters as a result of monitoring programs that would be designed for each water resource on the basis of conditions, uses, and goals. The design would include physical, chemical/toxicological, biological/ecological, habitat, and ancillary information and would incorporate monitoring efforts from local municipalities, private industry, and all levels of government. Within the selected indicators, a core set of comparable indicators would be chosen by mutual agreement and obtained for local use and for aggregation in regional and national assessments. Water for which information is insufficient to define the water-quality condition will need to be sampled in a stratified manner that reflects potential sources of pollutants from anthropogenic activities, climate, hydrogeologic setting, and goals for the water. During the 5- to 10-year cycles, the waters would be comprehensively assessed by using flexible monitoring designs (table 2). Information that results from the monitoring would be routinely interpreted, assessed, and reported by the responsible agencies to the public and decisionmakers. In addition, at the national level, the USEPA would aggregate information from States, Tribes, and others to produce the assessment report required by Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act. Because the current Clean Water Act mandates a 305(b) report every 2 years, this recommendation would be implemented by linking a series of three reports that would cover all States and Tribal waters in 6 years. If legislative changes are made, then the USEPA would report to Congress every 5 years. The 305(b) report and other national and regional assessments would incorporate the suite of comparable core parameters collected and made available by States, Tribes, and other participating groups. On the basis of the results of the monitoring and assessments, the Federal, State, and Tribal agencies would adjust the category of each water resource and refine the monitoring design, as appropriate.Table 2. Targeted monitoring strategy.
Monitoring data from all partners can be used in any category. Site Selection design can range from probabilistic to targeted in any category.
Management focus Categories of water Flexible monitoring designs
for resource Maintenance Meets or exceeds standards Long-term.
and objectives Low frequency or rotational.
Screening by using a
comprehensive site of
Special protection Outstanding natural resource Long-term periodic frequency.
waters habitat of endangered Moderate spatial density.
species; ecological reference Comprehensive suite of
conditions; sole-source aquifers indicators.
Remediation and Do not meet standards and objectives. Shorter term.
restoration Or may not meet in the future unless High frequency.
action is taken. High density.
Indicators tailored to
Thousands of organizations operate water-quality-monitoring programs and projects nationwide. Collaboration is necessary because few single organizations can afford to collect all the information needed for informed decisionmaking. The strategy to integrate these diverse institutional efforts is to establish collaborative partnerships of multiorganizational teams at national, interstate, State or Tribal, and watershed levels. These teams should include municipal, private, and volunteer monitoring groups. Formal mechanisms are needed at the national and the State or Tribal levels to ensure effective planning and coordination for monitoring efforts. At the watershed and the interstate levels, planning and coordination mechanisms need to be flexible enough to adapt to changing situations and resource limitations (Figure 2).
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Figure 2. Key monitoring relations.
Like other monitoring efforts, Federal programs are designed to meet mission-specific objectives. [See the first year report (Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality, 1992, Appendix B) for a description of relevant Federal programs]. Collectively, they could convey a reasonably complete nationwide or regional story about water quality. As part of the nationwide strategy, the ITFM proposes that national monitoring programs collaborate to provide a strong ambient-water-quality framework within which States, Tribes, and watersheds could contribute their geographically specific information. Non-Federal organizations should be involved in collaborating with and advising Federal programs and be able to access Federal information easily. Federal programs should among themselves identify common physical, chemical, and biological indicators, reference conditions, and comparable core parameters to share and report together. Major Federal information systems should be linked through shared reference tables, minimum data elements, common data-element definitions and names, and information-transfer software, such as Internet or MOSAIC. Federal agencies with national status and trends programs or major water-resources responsibilities are shown in Figure 3 below.
The ITFM strategy includes an annual meeting of all managers of Federal water-status and water-trends programs to report on the previous year's monitoring results, to coordinate the future workplan, and to collaborate on nationwide products. In addition, the ITFM recommends that an advisory group be formed to support the major Federal ambient-assessment programs, such as the USGS's National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program and the National Stream Quality Accounting Network (NASQAN), the USEPA's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Status and Trends Program (NS&T), and the National Biological Service's (NBS) Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends (BEST) Program. This advisory group would foster better integration of Federal programs and more effective use of available resources. It would include members from all levels of government and the private sector. Currently, some Federal programs have their own advisory committees to support program-specific issues that require additional attention. As needed, these should continue as working groups of the assessment advisory group.
The Administration should consider issuing an Executive order to provide guidance to Federal agencies about their activities and participation. Active Federal leadership is needed to support such nationwide efforts as developing standards and guidelines, sharing data, leveraging program resources, facilitating technology transfer, and building consensus.
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Figure 3. Federal Agencies and National Status and Trends Programs.
States and Tribes report water-quality status to the USEPA in the biennial 305(b) reports. USEPA has identified two concerns about its national report aggregated from the State reports. First, the data from the States and the Tribes are often not comparable and make a consistent aggregation of data at larger scales, especially the interstate and the national, difficult. Second, States and Tribes assess considerably less than all their water resources in any 2-year reporting period, in part, because many State budgets for monitoring programs have decreased over the years.
The ITFM recommendations of a 6-year cycle for the 305(b) report (5 years vs. current 2 years if legislative changes are made) and increased State comparability of assessment and collection methods would answer the concerns. In addition, some State and Tribal programs now are using program designs that allow them to monitor their water resources over a longer time period, say 5 to 10 years, often targeting their limited resbiological indicators, reference conditions, and comparable core parameters to share and report together. Major Federal information systems should be linked sources to address specific issues. In other words, some States and Tribes are already using revolving watershed assessments and priority systems similar to the approach endorsed by the ITFM.
The ITFM recommends that a redesign of State and Tribal monitoring programs begin with evaluating, synthesizing, and mapping existing information that would actively involve many different monitoring partners in a collaborative effort. This collaborative effort would include the following:
The ITFM recommends that comprehensive assessments of State or Tribal water resources be conducted by using criteria shown in table 2. In this design, States and Tribes would first characterize their waters with available information and knowledge. Then, on a 5- to 10-year rotating basis or other design (at the discretion of the State or Tribe), they would comprehensively assess their water resources by using different monitoring intensities and techniques according to the conditions of the water bodies and other factors, as described above. Volunteer and private sector monitoring can be integrated into any of the three program priorities, and data from Federal, State, Tribal, local, and private assessments could be shared in all categories. Statistical monitoring designs, as well as targeted and intensive surveys, also can be integrated.
The ITFM recommends the establishment of collaborative teams at the State or Tribal level that would include representatives of all the major monitoring sectors active in the jurisdictions. The primary responsibility for promoting collaborative water-monitoring and assessment programs should reside with a national monitoring council and with the State or Tribal teams. In some places, the establishment or use of existing monitoring teams may be appropriate. For example, each State or Tribal team also should include, as needed, representatives from Federal, regional, and local agencies, and other institutions, such as universities, industrial organizations, and volunteer monitoring groups that collect and analyze surface and ground-water information within the State or Tribal geographic area.
The State or Tribal and regional teams would have several principal functions. They would clarify roles and responsibilities and facilitate communication and collaboration among Federal, State, Tribal, interstate, local, and private water-monitoring and assessment programs that participate in the strategy. They would identify major issues or programs that joint efforts could address most effectively. Also, the teams would tailor the national guidelines to meet regional needs and encourage their adoption by participating agencies and institutions.
Managers of local watershed resources need aggregated data from a variety of sources to guide their policies and activities. To help meet this need, the ITFM recommends that a National Water-Quality Monitoring Council develop a guidance document that summarizes where existing data can be found. Some organizations are already addressing this need. The U.S. Forest Service (1994) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1991) have written watershed-assessment handbooks; the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) handbook describes ecosystem management for forested watersheds. The Soil Conservation Service (1994) has prepared a handbook on monitoring water-quality conditions that are related to agricultural activities. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is developing a standard for water-quality monitoring in conjunction with the ITFM. As part of the nationwide strategy, the proposed National Water-Quality Monitoring Council will work with agencies, private and volunteer organizations, and academia to produce a handbook for monitoring and assessing water-quality watersheds that is applicable for nationwide use.
The ITFM encourages agencies at all governmental levels to develop and evaluate monitoring and assessment programs by using the frameworks for monitoring program design that are described in Technical Appendixes B and L. The ITFM also promotes the coordination of new and existing ambient- and compliance-monitoring programs to provide needed information within watersheds and other geographic areas of concern for all potential data users. Each monitoring program is specific to its geographic location and purpose. At the same time, each is a part of the nationwide monitoring effort to generate information on surface- or ground-water conditions, which is the basis for regional and nationwide descriptions of water quality. Unless each monitoring program develops comparable information on mutually selected core indicators, the regional and the nationwide descriptions will be difficult to assemble, and comparison of conditions among locations will be difficult.
Ambient information is critical to compliance efforts, and compliance information about pollution locations and loads is needed to interpret ambient data. Compatible compliance information about pollution loads is vital to assessing the relative contributions of point and nonpoint sources of pollution for watershed management. In many cases, the compliance community performs some ambient monitoring, most of which is for compliance-monitoring purposes. For example, water suppliers monitor source-water supplies to determine the treatment needed for drinking water. During its third year, the ITFM began working with organizations that represent the regulated community to define how these programs can more effectively work together.
The regulated community---industry, public water suppliers, municipalities, and others---provides much of the money spent for water-quality monitoring, most of which is spent for compliance-monitoring purposes. Much of the compliance and ambient data generated by the regulated community, however, is unavailable for other uses because of differing designs and goals in collecting the data and also because no one has asked for it in a systematic way beyond its narrow compliance context. Also, these same data are not likely to be available in the future until capture and storage of the data become easier. Because of its unavailability and because it was collected for different purposes, often using different methods and quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC), data from the regulated community have been used infrequently in ambient-assessment studies.
The ITFM monitoring strategy is to form partnerships among compliance monitors and ambient monitors to make applicable data from both communities more usable and accessible. The goal is to find opportunities that are mutually beneficial and more efficient to gather data and develop more useful and comprehensive interpretive products. Because of the different purposes for which data is collected, it may not always be possible to integrate ambient and compliance information. However, some integration will be beneficial, particularly in the area of source-water monitoring for drinking water. It also will be useful to determine natural seasonal variability, to separate natural from anthropogenic causes, and to identify spacial variability.
Potential areas of cooperation include developing a data-storage system that is easily accessible, that is easy to use for data entry and retrieval, and that can store generally useful compliance data. For example, water suppliers' data could go into the new USEPA Public Water Supply System, ambient data collected by dischargers could go into the modernized USEPA's STOrage and RETrievel System (STORET) system, or interfaces could be built between facility data systems and national or State data systems.
In return, agencies would work with the regulated community to:
Closer cooperation on monitoring can help the compliance-monitoring community and State or Tribal environmental agencies identify more cost-effective ways to protect the environment. For example, Florida is considering ways to allow a reduction in compliance monitoring at wells after water companies have achieved an effective well-head-protection program that minimizes the likelihood of contamination in the aquifer.
To enhance the integration of compliance- and ambient-monitoring information for decisionmaking, the ITFM, under the leadership of the USEPA and the USGS, plans to initiate pilot projects in selected NAWQA Program study units and other key watersheds. The general approach for the pilot project will involve defining the areas of study, identifying the water-quality information needs and objectives for the area, determining the limitations of existing compliance and ambient programs to meet those needs, implementing actions to overcome the impediments encountered and to provide the necessary information, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of actions taken, and collaborating to improve the balance between compliance and ambient information.
Examples of questions that could be addressed in these projects include the following:
Nationwide, participants in more than 500 volunteer monitoring programs are collecting a great variety of water-quality information. These programs involve more than 340,000 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds in almost every State. Volunteers monitor all types of water bodies and collect physical, chemical, biological, and habitat data.
In general, volunteers monitor for one or both of the following purposes:
Because volunteer monitoring organizations can be strong partners in the nationwide monitoring strategy, the ITFM recommends integrating volunteer monitoring into existing and planned monitoring programs. To improve the quality and utility of volunteer efforts, the ITFM recommends the following:
One of the biggest barriers to sharing water-monitoring data is that agencies often use methods that are not comparable to obtain data (collect and analyze samples) for the same variable. This means that data from these agencies cannot be combined to allow scientists and the public to assess water-quality conditions.
To assess similar conditions objectively across a variety of scales up to and including national assessments, monitoring data produced by different organizations should be comparable, of known quality, available for integration with information from a variety of sources, and easily aggregated spatially and temporally. The ITFM recommends several actions to improve data compatibility. First, partners in the strategy must adopt common parameter/indicator names and definitions. This is fundamental to achieving compatible data. The ITFM has begun a Data-Element Glossary that will support data compatibility and facilitate information sharing (Technical Appendix M). Partners in the strategy should begin by adopting the initial set of common names and definitions and then expand that set as rapidly as possible.
In addition, the ITFM strategy proposes a performance-based methods system (PBMS) for the field and laboratory (Technical Appendixes I, N, O). The PBMS accommodates the use of different methods for measuring the same constituent provided that all methods produce the same results for the same sample within a specified level of confidence. Analytical reference materials also can be an important component of a PBMS. This approach is technically practical and allows implementation of improved, and sometimes more economical, sampling and analytical techniques over time. The PBMS will require institutional support at the national level; therefore, the ITFM recommends an Intergovernmental Methods and Data Comparability Board (MDCB; Technical Appendix H).
The ITFM recommends the use of reference conditions in biological and ecological assessments (Technical Appendixes F and G). Reference conditions allow the comparison of observed water-quality characteristics to appropriate baseline conditions; they also can be used to calibrate a method for a specific ecoregion or habitat. As a way to specify reference conditions, the ITFM recommends using the concept of ecoregional reference sites. An ecoregion is a homogeneous area defined by similarity of climate, landform, soil, potential natural vegetation, hydrology, or other ecologically relevant variables. Such regions help define the potential designated-use classifications of specific water bodies. In theory, reference conditions are single measurements or sets of selected measurements of unimpaired water bodies that are characteristic of an ecoregion and (or) habitat. In practice, reference conditions represent conditions (biological, physical, chemical) exhibited at either a single site or an aggregation of sites that represent the least impacted (by anthropogenic disturbances and pollution) reference sites or the reasonably attainable condition at the least impacted reference sites.
The vast amount of water-quality information collected by public and private entities is not often easily accessible to users outside the collecting organization. The principal barriers to data and information sharing can be overcome through several approaches that are described in the following paragraphs:
Better processes and methods are required to share monitoring findings and results among national, regional, State, and Tribal resource-assessment programs. Also, guidelines and tools are needed that describe ways to aggregate and interpret information for regional and national summaries of water conditions and trends. Technology transfer should be promoted among various national and State reporting programs, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Resource Conservation Assessment, the USGS's biennial National Water Summaries, and the States' and the USEPA's 305(b) reports to Congress that are mandated by the Clean Water Act.
The strategy encourages and helps resource-assessment programs produce publications that meet the needs of a wider audience. It is not sufficient for technical assessment programs to communicate only with their technical peers; they also must communicate with a broad audience that is concerned with the overall significance of their assessments. This requires a careful analysis of audiences and an approach to communication that recognizes the particular style, format, media, and content considerations appropriate to each audience. As a corollary activity, mechanisms are needed to ensure the best uses of the technical information derived from assessment activities.
Interpretations of results from national programs and the integration of results from State and regional programs should lead to similar conclusions about the conditions of our Nation's water. The only differences in interpretations should be in the areal extent of coverage (presumably broader coverage for the national programs) and the degree of resolution (presumably finer resolution for the regional, State, and Tribal programs). Both types of programs are critical components in the nationwide strategy.
Improved mechanisms for performing and sharing top/down and bottom/up interpretation, assessment, and aggregation of water-resources information will make it possible to produce information products more quickly after resource assessments are completed. However, complex review and approval procedures within many agencies can cause significant delays in releasing those products to their intended audiences. Implementation of an effective national strategy must address issues of timeliness and audience identification for reporting, integrating information across disciplines, comparing data analyses and interpretations, and providing mechanisms for information aggregation (see Technical Appendixes J and K).
Modeling is an assessment tool that uses data, helps identify data needs, and allows management decisions to be made on the basis of predictions. Implementation of the ITFM strategy should include use of modeling.
Collaborative teams at all levels should periodically evaluate their monitoring activities to confirm that they are meeting their objectives in the most effective and economical manner. The successor to the ITFM should produce a report every 5 years to evaluate water-quality-monitoring activities and to document progress in implementing the nationwide strategy and making appropriate adjustments. This report should include a summary of water-monitoring activities over the previous 5 years, an evaluation of the applicability of the monitoring program, and the Nation's ability to obtain and share information needed to evaluate water quality. The report should present successes at the national and the watershed scales and should identify continuing barriers to understanding water-quality conditions. This report should not address the status of water-quality conditions; existing Federal, regional, State, and Tribal agencies have that responsibility. However, greater collaboration and information sharing should enhance the individual reports.
Selected categories of aquatic resources should receive specific attention when water-quality-monitoring programs are planned and implemented. These categories include ground water, wetlands, lakes, and coastal water. For these categories, additional guidance and recommendations are needed to supplement the general information provided throughout this report. The ITFM has addressed some of the monitoring issues specific to ground water, and the results are discussed below. However, additional work needs to be done on the other three categories. Focus groups of appropriate experts are needed to develop guidelines and to make recommendations for these three resource categories.
Historically, ambient-water-quality considerations have focused on surface-waters. The original goals of the Clean Water Act primarily targeted State-designated uses for surface waters. Surface and ground waters are, however, hydraulically connected. Geochemical processes are reflected in the quality of ground water and can profoundly affect surface-water quality and aquatic biota because approximately 40 percent of flowing surface water comes from ground water.
Water-quality-monitoring programs must consider differences in spatial, temporal, and other characteristics between ground- and surface-water resources. Ground water normally is not easily accessed for monitoring, and suitable wells must be located or drilled (except in special circumstances). Further, ground water has distinct three-dimensional distributions within geologic formations of rock and soil that are often in units that have very different physical, chemical, and biological characteristics. In particular, water flows in aquifers at extremely slow rates compared with surface-water-flow rates. For example, ground water may move fractions of an inch per day, or even per year, while streams and rivers frequently move miles per day. As a result of these and other differences, ground-water interactions with the biosphere and lithosphere differ significantly from the interactions of surface waters. The ITFM recognized these differences and accordingly established a special focus group for ground-water monitoring to ensure that ITFM proposals, such as the framework for monitoring programs (Technical Appendix B), address specific ground-water needs. Additional results of the deliberations of the Ground Water Focus Group are presented in Technical Appendix L, and their work is continuing to address indicators for ground-water monitoring.
As an initial step in implementing the nationwide monitoring strategy, the ITFM proposes that existing information about the biological conditions of streams and rivers be gathered and evaluated. In addition to supporting the goal to conserve and enhance ecosystems, this biological evaluation would initiate the implementation of technical concepts and institutional collaboration integral to the strategy. Most water-monitoring networks were designed and implemented at a time when detection and control of chemical pollutants in water was of paramount importance. Now, however, the need for aquatic biological information is more widely recognized.
In addition, the biological evaluation would integrate information from different organizations, show data gaps, and test recommendations designed to improve information compatibility. Because of differences in monitoring purposes, various Federal, State, and Tribal programs produce data that vary in parameters, spatial density, frequency of collection, analysis methods, and level of QA.
Further actions following the initial data gathering would need to be implemented through a series of iterations of data collection, data interpretation, and voluntary refocusing over an extended time period. The NBS is a key agency to participate in this project.
One of the key implementation issues is that training must be available to all Federal, regional, State, Tribal, local, private, and volunteer personnel involved in water monitoring. Training would be the cornerstone to promoting the use of the monitoring framework, the correct use of environmental indicators, the application of comparable methods of sample collection techniques and analytical methods, the storage and sharing of environmental data, and the use of new methods to interpret and report results.
Training programs are now available in such organizations as the USGS, the USEPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, associations, societies, and the Water Resources Research Institutes and academic organizations. A collaborative effort is needed to conduct water-monitoring and data-management training. Training should include monitoring and data management for water quality. Training would be tailored to selected audiences, which would include managers who use water-quality information for decisionmaking, research scientists, field and laboratory technicians, and interested members of public, volunteer, and private organizations. An interagency training team should be formed at the national level to coordinate an inventory of training programs now available from public agencies, academic institutions, and private organizations and the development of a list of training needs and the number of trainees anticipated, training materials, and plans to meet identified training for different sectors.
Participating agencies should make training available at various locations across the country on a continuing basis; the training would use formal and informal formats as appropriate. The collaborative training plans should include a QA program to measure the effectiveness of training efforts and should include a complete review every 5 years. Training may not be fully implemented for several years because of the massive effort that will be required to organize and operate a coordinated nationwide training effort.
It also is important to broaden training into collaboration and education. Many groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, the Ecological Society of America, and the Association of Environmental Engineering Professors, were involved in commenting on or were suggested as collaborators for implementation of the strategy for nationwide monitoring.
Before some ITFM proposals are implemented nationwide, additional pilot studies are needed. Groups working at the national level need feedback to move from strategy to tactics for implementation. More tailored guidance is needed to ensure that the flexibility required in different areas of the country is accommodated. In addition, information on implementation costs and on the savings that result from improvements also are needed. Although the ITFM believes that many improvements to monitoring can be accomplished within available resources, such improvements must be thoughtfully planned and coordinated. When program updates or new monitoring efforts are funded, the ITFM recommendations can be more readily accommodated. However, special care must be taken to ensure that attempts to implement aspects of the strategy by using available monitoring resources do not adversely impact existing monitoring that now supports critical objectives.
Because of its voluntary nature, the strategy proposed by ITFM must offer tangible benefits to encourage organizations that monitor or fund water-quality activities to participate in the strategy. The major incentives for participation are discussed below:
An institutional infrastructure is needed to support the implementation of the strategy. The infrastructure should include a national collaboration forum and formal or informal State and Tribal implementation teams. If State or Tribal entities identify the need for regional or watershed-level implementation teams, then regional teams also should be used to carry out the strategy. It is important to the success of the strategy that existing collaborative mechanisms be used to the extent possible. Maximum flexibility is needed at the interstate, the regional, and the watershed levels to assure effective implementation. Figure 4 shows an overview of the proposed organizational framework.
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Figure 4. Organizational framework for implementing the strategy.
A National Water-Quality Monitoring Council will be established to carry forward national aspects of the strategy. The National Council would develop guidance and tools to provide technical support and serve as a forum for collaborative program planning. The viewpoints of business, academia, and volunteers are critical to the successful implementation of the strategy. Membership on the National Council would include the private sector, volunteer monitoring organizations, and government agencies at all levels---Federal, State, Tribal, interstate, and local. Non-Federal representation would be drawn from various geographic areas of the country to cover the full range of natural, social, and economic settings. The National Council would operate as part of the Water Information Coordination Program (WICP), which is required by OMB Memorandum No. 92--01. A draft charter for the proposed National Council is presented in Technical Appendix C.
The National Council would assume broad responsibility for promoting implementation of the nationwide monitoring strategy and the ITFM recommendations that would improve monitoring and resource assessments in the United States. In principle, the National Council would facilitate monitoring and assessment programs to fulfill their intended initial purpose and support national compatibility and information sharing where purposes overlap. The National Council would be concerned with water monitoring, which has been broadly defined to include measuring the physical, chemical/toxicological, and biological/ecological characteristics of surface and ground waters, including freshwater, marine, and wetlands, as well as associated data that involve habitat, land use, demographics, weather, and atmospheric deposition. The National Council would coordinate its activities with the ongoing work of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), which is authorized by OMB Circular A--16. The National Council would be concerned with the monitoring of streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries, wetlands, coastal and ground waters, sewer and industrial outflows, and public drinking-water sources (not finished water). It would consider the following monitoring purposes, which are implemented by individual monitoring agencies: to assess status and trends, to identify and rank existing and emerging problems, to design and implement programs, to determine whether goals and standards are being met, to assure regulatory compliance, to facilitate responses to emergencies, to support hydrologic research, and to help target monitoring, prevention, and remediation resources.
The National Council would issue voluntary guidelines to promote consistency. These guidelines would address the comparability of field and laboratory methods, recommended minimum sets of parameters for specific monitoring purposes, environmental indicators, QA programs, metadata requirements, data management and sharing, and reader-friendly formats for reporting information to decisionmakers and the public.
These guidelines would build on the progress achieved by the ITFM and other groups, should yield significant improvements in the nationwide consistency of data-collection activities, and should provide comparable methods and results when reporting and sharing data. The National Council would encourage the voluntary adoption of these guidelines by relevant federally funded State, Tribal, public, and private organizations operating watershed monitoring and assessment programs and other monitoring efforts. Through its relations with State and Tribal teams, it also would promote adoption of these guidelines by cooperating State, Tribal, regional, and local agencies, as well as private and volunteer organizations. The National Council would coordinate the development of a nationwide training effort to help ensure that appropriate individuals acquire the knowledge and skills needed to carry out monitoring and assessment responsibilities.
To facilitate implementation of the Strategy, the ITFM recommends that the Administration consider issuing an Executive order that provides guidance and requirements for Federal agencies with water-quality-monitoring responsibilities.
To provide the national infrastructure necessary to implement methods comparability, the ITFM recommends that an MDCB be established under the auspices of the National Council. The mission of the MDCB would be to promote and coordinate the collection of monitoring data of known quality by using comparable field techniques and analytical chemical and biological measurement methods, where objectives are similar, through the voluntary participation of the monitoring community. A draft charter for the MDCB is provided in Technical Appendix H.
The scope of the MDCB would be to provide a framework and a forum to identify interagency priorities for parameters that most need comparable methods, to take actions that improve the scientific validity of water-quality data, to establish comparable approaches among agencies for collecting water-quality-monitoring information, to provide a forum for advancing state-of-the-technology water-quality methods and practices, and to assist all levels of government in collecting monitoring information in a comparable and coordinated manner. The MDCB would work closely with other organizations that promote methods comparability, such as the ASTM and the USEPA's Environmental Monitoring Management Council.
To develop necessary guidance for indicators, the ITFM recommends establishing an Environmental Indicators Guidance Committee that would carry on the activities of the ITFM's Environmental Indicators Task Group work in conjunction with the MDCB. The National Council and this Committee should develop guidelines for the selection and reporting of environmental indicators and criteria for determining reference conditions to assess water-quality and related ecological systems. Also, the National Council and this Committee should adopt recommended data elements for water-quality-data systems and the minimum elements to facilitate the sharing of environmental indicator information.
The ITFM's Data Management and Information Sharing (DMIS) Task Group has prepared a Data-Elements Glossary to support data collection, interpretation, presentation, and sharing (Technical Appendix M). The full glossary of recommended data elements represents the base data requirement proposed for implementation as agencies develop new water-quality-data systems. The DMIS Task Group also has identified minimum data elements that are needed to share water-quality data effectively among existing systems. The minimum data elements would be incorporated in user interfaces of data systems maintained by participating agencies. Finally, the DMIS Task Group has identified core water-quality-data sets, such as ecoregions, hydrologic units, river reaches, land use/land cover, taxonomic codes, and aquifer names, that will be maintained by one organization or a consortium of organizations and shared by all ITFM organizations. The next steps will involve reaching an agreement on minimum data sets and common data-exchange formats. Modern technology can now provide the means to achieve data sharing and efficiencies not thought possible just a few years ago.
The ITFM recommends that the National Council promote a coordinated effort of data-management-system enhancement or development with the objective of creating linked multiagency information systems with common standards. Agencies would not develop a common system, but rather a linked series of key systems that would coordinate their designs to facilitate the storage of data at many locations and still be able to share information effectively. This coordinated design would involve the sharing of data models and, in some cases, data-base structures; environmental data and associated QA information would be maintained in a data management system operated by the Federal, State, Tribal, or local agency or private organization responsible for collecting the data. The design also would include an interface whose components would be used by all participating organizations. The interface would include the ability to query the various data bases by using the minimum data elements of the DMIS Task Group. The coordinated design also should include a series of standard reports and (or) an exchange format. This effort would likely need a multiagency consortium to design, develop, test, implement, and maintain the linked systems.
Some Federal resources must be provided to help support pilot studies in selected areas. The USEPA is planning to provide $500,000 to selected States during FY 1995. The USEPA worked with the ITFM and the States to determine how the monies can best be used to achieve targeted comprehensive monitoring to measure progress toward the nationwide goals. Much of the money will be used to georeference State waters to RF3. USEPA also targeted $2 million to Tribal monitoring programs. In addition, the USGS will identify the implementation of the ITFM strategy as one of the priorities of the National Water Resources Research and Information System---Federal/State Cooperative Program in Fiscal Year 1995 and beyond. Through the Cooperative Program, agencies at State, Tribal, and local levels of government are partners with USGS in data collection and special studies of mutual interest on a 50/50 cost-sharing basis. This priority will provide an edge for ITFM pilot studies and future water-quality-monitoring-design efforts that compete for Federal matching funds. In FY 1995, the appropriated Federal matching funds in the Cooperative Program will exceed $60 million. The above funds are in addition to Federal monies already available to States and Tribes for monitoring through existing mechanisms in a number of agencies including the USEPA Section 106 grants.
Better environmental protection and resource-management decisionmaking, which are the results of better monitoring, will result in cost savings. By improving and using more complete water-quality-monitoring results, decisionmakers can target scarce financial and other resources to priority problems, evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken, make needed adjustments, and avoid costly mistakes. Many of the recommendations can be jointly funded within existing budgets by the participating agencies. In some cases, financial agreements will be developed among agencies to support mutually beneficial monitoring projects. In other cases, basic agreements exist and are being used. Because the strategy will be implemented over time and almost all the recommendations are intended for future monitoring, major adjustments in funding are not required in the short term. By leveraging technical capability and cost sharing, agencies can make better use of existing expertise and funding resources nationwide. It is noteworthy, however, that the early successes of the ITFM are due, in large part, to the energy and enthusiasm of the members and contributions from participating agencies for specific projects. A modest amount of short-term funding to support the administrative infrastructures for the groups that are implementing the strategy may be needed. Such support would ensure that the process of collaboration continues, thereby allowing the Nation to realize the expected long-term benefits and efficiencies. This would allow all participants to achieve a higher return for their existing and future investments. As changes are made, the savings will be used to support improvements in other functions. The result will be more cost-effective monitoring and a significant expansion and improvement in the information that can be used for decisionmaking. As the strategy is implemented and participating agencies jointly develop and implement detailed plans, specific information on cost savings and costs for implementation should be documented and reported. After available funds are used effectively, then participating agencies will need to address resource requirements for future actions.
Benefits from the ITFM 's strategy and recommendations are already being identified. Member agencies have taken significant steps to improve water-quality monitoring and to achieve cost savings now and in the future. The progress to date includes actions that foster different aspects of the strategy. Selected examples are presented below.
Eight Federal agencies, which include the Smithsonian Institute, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the NBS, NOAA's National Ocean Data Center, the USEPA, and the USGS, are taking an important step forward to improving consistency among Federal data-storage systems that contain biological information. These agencies are developing joint agreements to maintain and use the same reference table for taxonomic codes. The codes would be related to the same taxonomic identifiers and hierarchy in the participating agencies' automated information systems. NOAA, the USEPA, and the USGS have agreed to use these codes. This major advance will reduce costs and facilitate data sharing among the systems. It is the first time that more than two agencies have agreed to support and use the same taxonomic codes.
Five Federal environmental monitoring programs in the USEPA, the NBS, the USGS, and NOAA have formed a partnership with the USGS's Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center to facilitate the development of comprehensive land-characteristics information for the United States. The Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium is generating land-cover data for the conterminous United States and is developing a land-characteristics data base that meets the diverse needs of the participating programs. Cost savings for purchasing the data are $4 million, and large additional savings will result from the joint image-processing and data management.
Regarding modernizing or creating new Federal information systems, the USEPA is modernizing STORET, and the USGS is modernizing its system (NWIS--II). For many years, much water-quality information collected by the USGS has been loaded into STORET. During this modernization phase, the agencies are working closely together to implement common data-element names and reference tables that will make it easier to exchange and aggregate data. In addition, the USGS has worked with the NBS to facilitate the compatible development of their information system. Such initiatives will make it easier for States and others to aggregate information from Federal systems. Also, successful efforts to make Federal systems compatible will encourage the non-Federal sector to adopt the common data-element names and reference tables. Significant cost savings nationwide over long periods of time and a larger, more useful environmental information base will result from such compatibility.
With leadership from the USEPA, the ITFM created the Master Directory of Water Quality and Ancillary Data that includes printed texts, data, and indexes of data holdings (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1993). The Master Directory is available on diskette, CD--ROM, and Internet. The Master Directory greatly simplifies users' access to relevant information and reduces costs by using modern information-transfer technology.
The ITFM has initiated pilot studies in three member States to help develop and test concepts. Federal, State, and local agencies are participating in these initiatives. Arizona is focusing on data management and information sharing. Florida is developing a statewide network that integrates surface- and ground-water monitoring in the Suwannee River Basin. Wisconsin is comparing monitoring methods used by Federal and State agencies and evaluating the differences in the results; the ultimate goal is to improve the comparability of data for Wisconsin so that data can be aggregated for a variety of applications.
The ITFM sponsored 10 regional meetings during summer 1993 to review its proposals and recommendations and to discuss monitoring opportunities and problems in the Federal regions. Additional meetings and review activities to contribute final comments and facilitate regional collaboration were held in 1994. In addition, Florida, Idaho, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have held statewide monitoring meetings that have included monitoring organizations and information users. The purpose of these meetings is to begin the design of statewide monitoring strategies. During the review of this strategy, other States, which included California, Michigan, Minnesota, and Arizona, stated they were pursuing collaborative monitoring teams of some kind.
In the area of monitoring program design, the USEPA, the States, and the Tribes are using the ITFM monitoring program framework as the basis for developing monitoring guidance for the USEPA Section 106 grants to States and Tribes. The use of the program throughout the Nation will significantly improve the usefulness of water-quality information and the cost effectiveness of the programs (Technical Appendix B). Federal agencies also are redesigning monitoring programs to parallel the ITFM program concepts more closely. For example, the USGS is redesigning NASQAN to implement such monitoring concepts, as well as to respond to budget constraints. The USACE is developing guidance documents for its water-quality-monitoring program that closely parallels the ITFM recommendations. This guidance will address water-quality-monitoring activities at hundreds of USACE projects nationwide.
The ITFM analytical work related to indicators is a major contribution to proposed changes to the USEPA guidelines for the States' 1996 305(b) reports. These changes are being made in consultation with representatives from Federal, State, Tribal, and interstate agencies that conduct environmental monitoring and assessment activities. The changes to the guidelines will produce more comparable information and will help link the information collected more directly to water-quality goals nationwide.
Regarding the establishment of ecological reference sites and conditions, representatives from States, USGS/NAWQA, and USEPA/EMAP are working together to identify and use reference conditions characteristic of waters and associated habitats that meet desired goals. The resulting reference conditions are needed as baselines against which to compare and assess the biological integrity of aquatic systems generally. All levels of government and the private sector will be able to use the information generated from the reference sites and conditions to make more effective regulatory and resource-management decisions.
The USGS, through the NAWQA Program, hosted an interagency workshop on the biological methods used to assess the quality of streams and rivers (U.S. Geological Survey, 1994). The purposes of the workshop were to promote better communication among Federal agencies and to facilitate data exchange and interagency collaboration. The workshop focused on community assessment methods for fish, invertebrates, and algae; characterization of physical habitats; and chemical analyses of biological tissues. The 45 biologists who attended the workshop evaluated similarities and differences among biological monitoring protocols and identified opportunities for collaboration and research, improving data compatibility, and sharing information.
Implementation of the recommendations and strategy in this report will result in an adequate waterinformation base to achieve natural-resource-management and environmental protection goals in the public and the private sectors. Identified changes are already being made, but implementation of the full strategy cannot be achieved quickly. Each participating organization will need to revise its monitoring activities in a series of deliberate steps over several years as money and time become available. However, because benefits from the changes are incremental, improvement of water-quality monitoring has begun as described in the preceding section.
As the competition for adequate supplies of clean water increases, concerns about public health and the environment escalate, and geographically targeted watershed-management programs increase, more demands will be placed on the water-quality-information infrastructure. These demands cannot be met effectively and economically without changing our approach to monitoring. The agencies that participated on the ITFM believe that the implementation of this strategy for nationwide water-quality monitoring will provide sound answers to the fundamental questions posed in the introduction to this report.
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