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What is the National Water Quality Monitoring Council?

The Council was created in 1997 as a vehicle for bringing together diverse expertise needed to develop collaborative, comparable, and cost-effective approaches for monitoring and assessing our Nation’s water quality. The approaches are fundamental to the successful management and sustainability of our waters, and are increasingly important because water issues are becoming more complex, resources are tighter, and the demand for high-quality water continues to grow in order to support a complex web of human activities and aquatic ecosystem needs.

The National Water Quality Monitoring Council (Council) provides a national forum for coordination of comparable and scientifically defensible methods and strategies to improve water quality monitoring, assessment and reporting, and promotes partnerships to foster collaboration, advance the science, and improve management within all elements of the water quality monitoring community. Vital to this role, the Council provides a voice for monitoring practitioners across the Nation and fosters increased understanding and stewardship of our water resources.

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What is the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI)?

Federal activities and funding for water resources information are integrally tied to partnerships with non-Federal entities. Therefore, the Secretary of the Interior established an advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) to help implement the program at the national level. The purposes of the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI) are to identify water information needs, evaluate their effectiveness of water information programs and recommend improvements. The member organizations represent all levels of government, tribal interests, and the private sector. The Chair of the ACWI is Interior's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. The Alternate Chair is the Associate Director for Water of the USGS.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) originally established the Water Information Coordination Program (WICP) in the 1960's. In 1991 OMB updated the authority and established the Water Information Coordination Program by issuing Memorandum No. 92-01. The overall purpose of the program is to improve water information for decision making about natural resources management and environmental protection. The memorandum designates the Department of the Interior, through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), as the lead agency. Other Federal organizations that fund, collect, or use water resources information work together with the USGS to implement program recommendations.

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Terms of Reference

Approved by the Advisory Committee on Water Information February 18, 1998.
Revisions approved by Council April 11, 2005.

  1. Official designation.

    The National Water-Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC) is the permanent successor to the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality (ITFM), a subgroup of the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI).

  2. Purpose, scope, applicability, and functions

    1. Purpose -- The overall purpose of the National Council is to champion and support water-quality information aspects of natural-resources management and environmental protection. The National Council has a broad mandate that encompasses water quality monitoring and assessment that includes considerations of water quality in relation to water quantity. The purpose of the National Council is to coordinate and provide guidance and technical support for the voluntary implementation of the recommendations presented in the Strategy for Improving Water-Quality Monitoring in the United States (the strategy) by government agencies and the private sector. The intent of the strategy, presented in the final report of the ITFM, is to stimulate the monitoring improvements needed to achieve comparable and scientifically defensible information on interpretations and evaluations of water-quality conditions. The information is required to support decisionmaking at local, state, interstate, regional, tribal, and national scales.

    2. Scope -- The scope of the National Council includes reviewing activities for monitoring the quality of fresh surface water, estuary and near coastal water, ground water, and precipitation at local, state, regional, tribal, and national levels. The National Council will provide guidance for the collection, management, and use of water-quality information. This information is needed to assess status and trends, to identify and prioritize existing and emerging problems, to identify research needs, to develop and implement management and regulatory programs, and to evaluate compliance with environmental requirements and the effectiveness of programs and projects. Regarding marine environments, the National Council will assist the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Tribes, and the States in their joint activities to gather water quality-monitoring information.

    3. The National Council will address and provide guidance for each of the following aspects of water-quality monitoring: institutional coordination and collaboration, research needs, identifying the objectives for monitoring, program design, reference conditions and sites, station selection, methods and data comparability, quality assurance and control, information management and data sharing, ancillary data needed to interpret basic water-quality data and information, data-interpretation and analysis techniques, reporting findings and information, training, incentives for participating in the strategy, benefits and costs of monitoring, evaluation of monitoring activities, and other issues necessary to the successful implementation of the strategy.

    4. Applicability -- As resources are available and consistent with applicable legal requirements, organizations that voluntarily choose to participate in implementing the strategy will implement NWQMC recommendations and voluntarily use the guidelines and procedures developed by the National Council and accepted by the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI).

    5. Functions -- The specific functions and tasks of the National Council include the following:

      1. Maintain the institutional framework -- Implement the strategy, establish and maintain collaborative partnerships that link monitoring organizations at the national, tribal, regional, state, and watershed levels.

      2. Evaluate progress -- Evaluate and report the progress in implementing the strategy and monitoring framework annually to ACWI. The evaluation will include accomplishments, plans, recommendations, and a list of organizations that participate in implementing the strategy and framework.

      3. Methods and data comparability -- Provide technical guidance and coordinate other support necessary to document and recommend adoption of comparable measurements that have known quality. To carry out these functions, the permanent Methods and Data Comparability Board (MDCB) will be established. The MDCB will include a balanced membership of organizations that represent federal, tribal, state, interstate, and local government agencies and the private sector organizations.

      4. Data quality and documentation -- Develop and foster the implementation of monitoring activities for which the data quality is known and the documentation is adequate to support information sharing.

      5. Methods and Data Elements -- Establish and maintain a process to identify and distribute comparable physical, chemical, and biological methods and data elements to measure progress in meeting water-quality goals at the national, regional, and state levels. As part of the process to support comparability, produce guidance for implementing use of comparable methods and data elements. Encourage similar collaboration to achieve comparable and relevant methods and data elements at the State and the watershed levels.

      6. Information management and sharing -- Provide easy access to and support of the sharing of information by creating links among information systems that will constitute a nationwide distributed water-information network. Identify requirements and recommend activities to make the most effective use of monitoring resources and to facilitate data quality, comparability, and sharing.

      7. Data elements, codes, and reference tables -- Adopt and maintain agreed-upon water quality data-elements glossary to provide common terminology and definitions for documenting water-quality data; that is, metadata. Continue to update and refine the water quality data-elements guidelines to meet additional requirements. Coordinate support for interagency efforts to maintain, update, and distribute common elements for use in automated data systems containing water-quality information.

      8. National assessment -- Foster collaboration among organizations that participate in national, multistate, or state assessments of water-quality conditions and trends. Develop and distribute guidelines and procedures to improve the interpretation and integration of the physical, chemical, and biological/ecological data needed to describe water-quality conditions and trends and to understand the factors that cause water-quality conditions to change.

      9. Reporting and public education -- Foster a better understanding of water-quality conditions, trends, and issues among decisionmakers and the general public by developing and implementing common or linked information-presentation and reporting methods that would include suggested presentation formats such as the Framework for Monitoring.

      10. Information dissemination -- Establish a mechanism that uses modern information technology to make the activities, conventions, protocols, and guidelines that are part of the strategy widely accessible. The mechanism should be maintained over time as required to meet users needs and to document the evolving infrastructure that supports the strategy.

      11. Other national water-information activities -- Collaborate with other national monitoring and assessment activities.

      12. International activities—Through existing mechanisms, such as national and international conferences, foster communication, collaboration, and consensus to improve the availability and utility of water-quality information internationally.

  3. Membership
    1. The National Council shall comprise a balanced membership of federal, tribal, interstate, state, local, and municipal governments, watershed groups-and national associations that will include volunteer monitoring groups. The membership will include representatives from organizations that collect, analyze, interpret, disseminate, or use water-quality monitoring information as well as those that develop monitoring technology, guidelines, and/or standards.
    2. Total membership of the National Council should not exceed 35 member organizations. Each member organization will designate their representative and an alternate to the National Council.
    3. State membership on the National Council will include one State agency representative from each of the 10 Federal regions. Within each region, the Council Steering Committee will solicit representatives of State water-quality monitoring agencies. This will be done in coordination with State officials interested in membership. State members will serve 4-year terms.
    4. The Council Co-Chairs will recommend to the Council Steering Committee a minimum of 11 non-government member organizations that have differing viewpoints and water-quality-monitoring and assessment functions. These organizations may represent the following interests: tribal, agriculture, environmental interest groups, industry, local agencies and municipalities, river-basin commissions, and/or associations, universities, and volunteer monitoring groups. These other member organizations will serve 4-year terms and can be redesignated.
    5. The USGS and the USEPA will serve as Co-Chairs of the National Council. The USGS will provide the Executive Secretariat for the National Council. Including the USGS and USEPA, Federal membership on the National Council will not exceed 10 representatives and will initially include the following organizations: the U.S. Department of Commerce/NOAA, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Energy, the USEPA/Offices of Water, the U.S. Department of the Interior/USGS, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional Federal member organizations up to a total of 10 can participate as mutually agreed by the Steering Committee of the National Council.

    6. Representatives or their alternates are expected to attend all meetings of the National Council. If a member organization is not represented at three consecutive meetings,then the Steering Committee of the National Council may appoint a new member organization to replace the member that has failed to participate.

  4. Meetings and procedures
    1. Meetings and procedures of Council will be developed by a Steering Committee per the attached Steering Committee Charter (Attachment A).

    2. The National Council will meet at least two times each fiscal year and at other times as designated by the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee will jointly determine the dates, times, and locations of the meetings in consultation with the members.

    3. Representatives to the National Council will receive no pay, allowances, or benefits by reason of their service on the National Council. However, while away from their homes or regular places of business and in the performance of services for the National Council, non-Federal representatives to the National Council will be allowed travel expenses if needed. Travel expenses will include per diem in lieu of subsistence, in the same manner as persons employed intermittently in Government service are allowed such expenses under Section 5703 of Title 5 of the United States Code.

    4. The presence of two-thirds of the representatives or designated alternates of the member organizations will constitute the quorum necessary to conduct business. The National Council will conduct business in an open fashion by attempting to discuss fully and resolve all issues through consensus and by recognizing the legitimate interests and diverse views of the National Council members. If complete agreement cannot be attained, then the following procedures will apply:

        1. A consensus will exist unless one or more representatives request a vote

        2. If a vote is requested, then Robert's Rules of Order will apply, and the cochairs will poll the National Council. An affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members present will constitute approval. Each member organization may cast one vote.

        3. Actions that constitute final reports or recommendations intended for nationwide implementation as part of the strategy will be signed by the Council Co-Chairs and/or by a designated non-Federal member. Representatives may prepare minority reports and provide them to the Executive Secretary within 1 week of a decision. Minority reports will be included with the final majority reports.

        4. Agreements by the National Council may be reached in formal session, in writing, or by email on an individual basis after every delegate is advised in advance by the cochairs.

      1. As resources are available and consistent with applicable legal requirements, organizations that choose to participate in the strategy will implement ITFM recommendations and will use the guidelines developed by the MDCB (or other subordinate groups) and approved by the National Council.

      2. Before adopting guidelines or recommendations for voluntary implementation nationwide as part of the strategy, the National Council will announce proposed actions and products in the Federal Register for the purpose of obtaining public review and comments.

      3. Summaries with action items of National Council meetings will be prepared by the executive secretary and distributed to all members and to the executive secretary of the ACWI. In addition, meeting summaries and other documents will be available for public access and review.

      4. Minutes of each National Council meeting, recommendations adopted, and copies of all studies and reports received, issued, or approved in conjunction with the activities of the National Council will be available for public inspection on the Internet and for review and copying at the following location:

        Water Information Coordination Program
        U.S. Geological Survey
        12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Mail Stop 417
        Reston, Virginia 20192

  5. Period of time necessary for the activities of the National Council -- The total period of time necessary for the National Council to carry out its activities is estimated to be for as long as the Federal Government has responsibilities and interests related to monitoring water quality.
  6. Official to whom the National Council reports -- The National Council reports to the Chair through the Executive Secretary of the ACWI.

  7. Support services -- Support services and executive secretary for the activities of the National Council will be provided by the USGS. In addition, the USEPA and other organizations will provide services and other support to the National Council as mutually agreed.

  8. Duties of the National Council--The duties of the National Council are to provide information and develop advice as set forth above.

  9. Termination date-- The Chair of the ACWI has the authority to terminate the National Council in consultation with the member organizations of the ACWI and the National Council.

  10. Subordinate groups--For assistance in conducting its business, the National Council may establish subordinate groups. Such groups will gather information, conduct research, analyze relevant issues and facts, and draft proposed position papers and/or recommendations for deliberation by the National Council. These groups will have the balanced perspectives and knowledge necessary to perform their assigned functions. Representatives that serve on subordinate groups may include organizations or experts that are not members of the National Council or the ACWI but that provide the knowledgeable and interested individuals needed to carry out the assigned tasks. The proposed plans and products for permanent groups, such as the MDCB, will be reviewed and approved by the National Council and forwarded to the ACWI for concurrence. These groups will report directly to the National Council or, in some cases, through another subordinate group.

  1. Authority--The National Council is part of the Water Information Coordination Program mandated by OMB Memorandum No. M-92-01, dated December 10, 1991. The National Council reports to the ACWI that operates under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.


Date: February 18, 2000
Revised: April 11, 2005
Charter of the Steering Committee of the National Water Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC)

The purpose of the National Water Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC) defined in the Terms of Reference document is to support water-quality monitoring information aspects of natural resources management and environmental protection. The Council’s Steering Committee (SC) was created to facilitate operation of the stated purpose in an efficient and timely manner. The structure, functions, and responsibilities of the SC presented below have been approved and adopted by the Council’s membership.

  1. The SC shall be comprised of the Council’s two Co-chairs, its Executive Secretary, and the chairs of each of its standing Work Groups, Boards, and Committees.

  2. The SC shall be responsible for recommending any future modifications or updates of the Council’s mission, goals, or objectives necessitated by changes in the nation’s focus on water resources or its strategies for monitoring water quality. Any such changes shall be presented to the entire Council for ratification.

  3. The SC is responsible for the review of the standing Work Groups’ plans and priorities.

  4. The SC will take the lead in identifying projects or pilot studies for use in implementing NWQMC objectives.

  5. The SC shall provide leadership in providing funding and budget for the purpose of implementing the Council’s priorities. It shall keep the Council informed on progress of projects and on the status of the Council’s budgetary issues and needs.

  6. The SC shall encourage and seek the active participation of the public and private sectors and of academia with interest in the Council’s mission by identifying and recruiting qualified representatives from these sectors to be new members of or to fill vacancies on the Council and to participate on Work Groups.

  7. The SC shall take the lead in developing themes, topics, and agendas for the regular meetings of the Council and for the periodic conferences, symposia, and other activities sponsored by the Council.

  8. The SC shall assume the lead in representing the Council in public forums or intergovernmental and other task forces and be responsible for the preparation and presentation of Council’s issues and concerns before the Advisory Committee on Water Information.

  9. The SC shall meet in person or by conference calls on a bimonthly basis or as needed to accomplish the above objectives and any other functions identified by the Council.


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