Proceedings of the 1998 NWQMC National Monitoring Conference
In 1992, the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality (ITFM) was established under the United States Geological Survey (USGS) authority to review national water quality monitoring activities and to develop an integrated national monitoring strategy. The Task Force was chaired by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the USGS serving as vice-chair and executive secretary. In 1995, ITFM produced its final report, The Strategy to Improve Water-Quality Monitoring in the United States. The National Water Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC) was formed in October 1997 as the successor to the ITFM with expanded membership and a permanent mandate to implement the strategy. The strategy contains principal recommendations on many issues including: institutional collaboration, monitoring framework, data-collection methods, environmental indicators, data management, and assessment and reporting approaches.
The Council is a nationwide partnership of water monitoring and information management authorities from federal and state agencies, tribes, municipalities, business and industry, academia, agriculture, environmental groups, and others with expertise in environmental monitoring. It is charged with coordinating and providing guidance for implementation of the voluntary, integrated, nationwide monitoring strategy developed and recommended by the ITFM. Currently, the Council supports the work of several workgroups including: the Methods and Data Comparability Board, Source Water Assessment Task Group, Information Resources Task Group, Monitoring Design Task Group, and the Ground Water Focus Group.
The strategy is designed to stimulate and support the monitoring improvements necessary to achieve better water quality information required by federal, state, tribal, and local decision makers, private organizations, and the public. The Council will focus on the quality of surface water and groundwater, including estuaries and near coastal waters, associated aquatic communities and habitats, wetlands, sediments, and air.
In the past, environmental programs focused on single-media, command-and-control approaches to pollution prevention. Today, changing priorities are leading federal, state, tribal, and local agencies and organizations toward adopting a broader, more integrated approach to risk reduction and pollution prevention. Monitoring requirements have shifted with these changing programmatic priorities. Therefore, it is important that the Council address, in a coordinated manner, how, what, when, and where agencies and organizations monitor. The Council=s challenge in this area is to emphasize:
- Simultaneous modernization and integration of agency information systems and use of Internet to communicate data more widely
- Use of biological condition as the principal indicator of the state of ecological integrity, along with associated physical, chemical, and hydrologic measures as indicators of environmental stress
- Improved understanding of the relationships among ecological health, human health, and economic conditions
- Identification of research needs and supporting research on all topics associated with the evaluation of the health of aquatic systems and prediction of how such systems respond to stress
- Improved access to ancillary data such as current and historic land use conditions and atmospheric deposition of organic and inorganic contaminants
- Design and implementation of nonpoint source evaluation and control programs
- Monitoring of groundwater, wetlands, and coastal systems, their ecological interfaces, and evaluating their role as critical components of multidimensional watersheds.
To meet these new challenges, the Council is currently developing a long-term workplan that will affirm and implement many of the recommendations from The Strategy to Improve Water-Quality Monitoring in the United States, while adding its own perspectives and priorities (including many of the recommendations made by participants during the first national monitoring conference).
Purpose and Structure of the First National Monitoring Conference
To involve a variety of monitoring professionals in this work and to address the questions being posed to the scientific and stakeholder communities, the Council sponsored a national monitoring conference in July 1998. The National Council and the conference planning committee organized a conference that would be innovative and interactive in both content and structure. The conference was designed to combine opportunities for participants to share ideas, experiences, expertise, and proposals for new procedures with a formal process in which participants, in various topic areas, collectively develop recommendations for the Council.
The title of the conference, Monitoring: Critical Foundations to Protect Our Waters, reflected the desire to use this meeting as an opportunity for building the foundation of communication, collaboration, inclusiveness, and positive action. The meeting was designed to provide participants with some of the new tools, larger networks, increased knowledge, and renewed motivation needed to protect our waters. Specifically, the goals of the conference were to:
- Spotlight the importance of monitoring ecosystems and ecological infrastructure sustainability
- Spotlight the need for scientifically based monitoring to refine and support water management policy and practices
- Provide a forum for communication and collaboration
- Encourage the sharing of successful monitoring designs, protocols, methods, and data management systems
- Encourage public participation and awareness of monitoring information.
In addition to selecting presentations representing a wide variety of innovative projects, potential collaborative programs, and technical knowledge throughout the country, the Council wanted to use this conference as a forum for meaningful interaction and input from conference participants. The Council was interested in creating a formal conference structure for promoting thoughtful discussion and the exchange of ideas and to take advantage of the breadth and depth of participants= expertise.
The conference was organized into 90-minute workshops (six concurrent sessions, each containing five workshops), grouped under four thematic tracks. The tracks were developed based on the abstract topics submitted to the conference planning committee. Several topics were explored in more than one workshop; for example, there were three separate workshops on nonpoint source monitoring, each with different speakers. The tracks and workshops topics were:
- Track A - Monitoring Design Strategies
- Monitoring Design
- Monitoring Coastal Systems
- Nonpoint Source Monitoring
- Monitoring Wetlands
- Monitoring Urban Stormwater and Sewer Discharges
- Multidimensional Watershed Monitoring
- Track B - Methodology and Information Sharing
- Data Comparability and Collection Methods
- QA/QC for Monitoring Programs
- Tools for Communicating Monitoring Results
- Track C - Indicators and Reference Conditions
- Biological Indicators and Reference Condition Development
- Wetlands Indicators
- Watershed Indicators
- Track D - Linking Monitoring to Environmental Management and Decision Making
- Vulnerability Assessment
- Section 305(b)
- Monitoring for TMDLs
- Source Water Issues, Both Surface and Ground Water
- Successful Program Collaboration.
Each workshop had a moderator, a facilitator, and two to four speakers giving 10- to 12-minute presentations. The presentations took place during the first half of each workshop. The second half of the workshop was devoted to a facilitated discussion. The purpose of each discussion was to identify one to three recommendations for the Council on the workshop's topic. After the workshops were over, facilitators, moderators, and others involved with the tracks worked through a process to refine and consolidate the recommendations based on the thematic tracks. By the end of the process, a coherent set of recommendations and discussion topics was developed for each track. A representative of each track gave his/her 20-minute report back, summarizing the issues and recommendations developed over the course of the conference. At the end of the conference there was an hour-long open-microphone session to allow for additional comments, discussion of the Track Reports, and input on the conference as a whole.
Organization of This Document
This document is divided into four sections:
- Section I - Introduction to the Council and the Conference
- Section II - Recommendations to the National Council
- Section III - Papers Presented at the Conference
- Section IV - Conference Wrap-up/Summary of Open Discussion.
Although the workshop papers were presented first at the conference, the Track Report (Section II) comes first in this document to highlight the participatory and collaborative nature of the conference. These reports have become a critical tool for the Council in developing and implementing priorities and they are as much a product of the conference as are the individual papers. Section III showcases some of the papers that were presented at the conference. Section IV summarizes comments made during the final open discussion session of the conference, where participants were invited to bring up any issues, comments, or questions that remained.
Further information on the Council, Council membership, and its workgroups and activities may be obtained from:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Ms. Sarah Lehmann
401 M Street, SW
Mail Stop 4503F
Washington, DC 20640
Phone: (202) 260-7021
Fax: (202) 260-1977
U.S. Geological Survey
- Ms. Toni Johnson
U.S. Geological Survey
Water Resources Division
MS 440 National Center
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, VA 20192
Phone: (703) 648-6810
Fax: (703) 648-5644
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