Monitoring for the Millennium

From Reno to Austin

The purpose of the National Water Quality Monitoring Council (the Council) is to provide a national forum to coordinate consistent and scientifically defensible water quality monitoring methods and strategies.  National conferences are one of the primary vehicles the Council has for providing a forum where those of us involved in water monitoring can meet, network, share strategies, build collaborations, and leave energized and motivated so we can effectively tackle the challenges waiting for us at home.

The following is adapted from the text of the Executive Summary from the Proceedings of the NWQMC 1998 national conference, Monitoring: Critical Foundations to Protect Our Waters (Reno, NV).  We have included it here to give this year’s conference participants an understanding of how we planned the Austin meeting.  The structure of the 1998 conference— which focused on networking, issue exploration, and group discussion— was one of the factors directly responsible for the success of that meeting.  The structure of this conference was deliberately built on the successes of the Reno meeting.



As part of its work, the Council organized and held  the conference Monitoring: Critical Foundations to Protect Our Waters, July 1998, in Reno, Nevada.  The specific goal was to provide a forum for interaction among monitoring groups focused on the exchange of ideas and strategies.  The conference highlighted the presentation of reports on successful monitoring, indicator development activities, efforts involving enhanced communication and collaboration, and increased public involvement in monitoring.

Through its efforts, the Council is highlighting the importance of, and supporting monitoring activities that provide knowledge of ecosystem quality, processes, and sustainability.  There is a an emphasis on scientifically based indicators, designs, methods, and data management systems to allow meaningful communication with environmental policy and management decision makers.

There were nearly 400 participants at the 1998 Reno conference.  Approximately 100 oral and poster presentations were offered in 30 “presentation and discussion” workshops. The workshops were organized into four broad tracks—Monitoring Design Strategies, Methodology and Information Sharing, Indicators and Reference Conditions, and Linking Monitoring to Environmental Management and Decision Making.  The objective of each workshop, following the presentations, was to develop a set of recommendations that would be forwarded to the Council.  The recommendations represent the direct input of the broadly based environmental monitoring community to short- and long-term strategies of the Council, and they will be incorporated into the Council’s work plan. 

Several overriding issues surfaced throughout the discussions, including the necessity of defining data quality objectives prior to commencing program design or monitoring projects.  There was discussion on the need to endorse and support development of regionally calibrated reference conditions using biological, physical, and chemical indicators.

Participants suggested that the Council take a leadership role in standardizing the performance-based methods system for increasing the monitoring community’s ability to share data and information.  Associated with that, and also frequently discussed, was the proposition that the Council develop technical and programmatic guidance documents for network design, sampling methods, data analysis and interpretation of results, program development, and training.  One of the most pervasive issues occurring throughout all tracks was the need for increased public education and outreach on environmental concerns, with greater involvement of volunteer monitoring groups. 

Following are selected recommendations developed by the conference participants in Reno:

Technical Guidance

  • Develop technical guidance on determining appropriate and sufficient levels of quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC).

  • Facilitate and sponsor development of guidance for monitoring network design, including consideration of geographic scale, site selection, and current and historic land use/land cover.

  • Develop guidance on producing QA/QC plans, including data quality objectives (DQO) and specific QC activities.

  • Sponsor/fund development of technical guidance documents for the monitoring community.

Monitoring Program Design

  • Develop standard designs for data collection protocols, database structure, and metadata/data reporting.

  • Facilitate and sponsor establishment of a systematic and standardized approach for developing regionally relevant indicators with special emphasis on valid physical, chemical, and biological endpoints and criteria.

  • Promote resource-based, integrated monitoring approaches that go beyond strictly meeting narrow programmatic objectives.

  • Begin the discussion to support integration of TMDL work with other state water quality monitoring needs.


  • Support the concept of performance-based methods systems [PBMS] and define the approach for field and laboratory activities.

  • Assess laboratory and field methodologies to ensure comparability between methods that are intended to measure identical environmental characteristics.


  • Provide mechanism, or determine other opportunities, for funding the establishment and support of state- or regional-level water resource quality monitoring councils.

  • Take a leadership role in developing, adopting, and serving as a clearinghouse for monitoring guidance, including sample collection, sample and data analysis, and data reporting.

This excerpt was adapted from the following document:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1998. Proceedings of the NWQMC National Conference Monitoring: Critical Foundations to Protect Our Waters. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. 663 pages plus appendixes.

For more information on the Council, visit our website: http://water.usgs.gov/wicp/acwi/monitoring/

Or, contact Judith B. Griffin, USGS (Executive Secretary to the Council) at 703/648-5299,

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