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    Revised 10/26/01

National Water Quality Monitoring Council Work Plan


The National Water Quality Monitoring Council (Council) was formed in 1997 as the permanent successor to the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality (ITFM, 1992-1995). The Council reports to the Advisory Committee on Water Information, convened by the Department of the Interior under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The Council is comprised of a balanced membership of 35 representatives, from Federal, interstate, state, tribal, local and municipal governments, watershed groups, universities, and the private sector, including volunteer monitoring. The Council provides the major national forum for the coordination of consistent and scientifically defensible federal and state water quality monitoring methods and strategies. Such strategies are intended to improve understanding of different impacts, such as polluted runoff and habitat alteration, on water quality and to define a national agenda of needed monitoring, research, and assessment models and tools.

Monitoring is a more important element of management than ever before. Beginning in 1972, progress in water quality restoration under the Clean Water Act was accomplished by controlling the relatively easily identified and regulated sources of point-source pollution. These sources now comprise just a fraction of the total pollution load to America's waters. Recent inventories of the causes of degraded waters identify sources that result from land uses and management practices-non-point sources that discharge intermittently and are dispersed across the landscape. They contribute silt, bacteria and elevated temperatures and nutrient-pollutants that are not easily regulated. Because of monitoring, the subtlety and extent of these impacts is better understood. Monitoring is essential to identify these sources, prove a further understanding of their impacts, and guide control efforts. Monitoring ultimately proves the value of the controls that are implemented.

The Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP), released by the President in February of 1998, assigned to the Council the production of several critical summaries and guidance on water quality monitoring. The Council's efforts are designed to provide information needed for program implementation at many levels, from local watershed organizations and tribes to state and Federal governments and the private sector.

Results from the first National Monitoring Conference, co-sponsored in July 1998 by the National Water Quality Monitoring Council and the Ground Water Protection Council, affirmed the need and importance for continued work toward improving and coordinating water quality monitoring. The recommendations from the conference provided additional direction for the Council, and stressed the need for improved communication and outreach both to the water quality monitoring community and to the public at large.

The Council has established the following goals, with accompanying objectives and specific tasks, to meet important program needs, with a special emphasis on supporting the needs of watershed management. The resulting assessments, summaries and guidance should provide fundamental information useful to the monitoring community at many levels. If sufficient resources can be provided to carry out these goals, they will address many of the needs for environmental restoration as defined in the Clean Water Action Plan, as well as other important programs such as Source Water Protection , Total Maximum Daily Loads, and concerns about ground water.

Goal #1: Water Information Strategies

Statement of Purpose

Define and promote goal-oriented monitoring by proposing strategies for sampling, data storage and retrieval, data analysis, interpretation, and reporting in support of the evolving information needs of water quality management.


Water quality monitoring can be defined in many ways. One view of monitoring suggests it provides information that underpins water quality management activities such as development of 303(d) lists and 305(b) reports and total maximum daily load allocations. Monitoring can also be defined as supporting scientific efforts to expand the frontiers of understanding of biogeochemical 'processes' affecting water quality. In recent years, the comparability and accuracy of the water quality information produced by monitoring, of all types, has been questioned (e.g. PEER, 1999; and GAO, 2000). The Government Performance and Results Act is precipitating a review of the ability of monitoring to effectively and efficiently support management decision-making. The role of science in monitoring is currently being explored as calls for 'sound science' in monitoring is being heard more frequently (Ward, 2000).

The Information Strategies Workgroup (via USGS funding) supported an assessment of data analysis methods currently employed to produce comparable water quality information (both in management and science). The findings suggest a lack of uniformity in data analysis methods in water quality monitoring, across agencies, however, there is uniformity within some agencies, such as the USGS. The general conclusion of the study suggests that non-comparable information is being produced by water quality monitoring in the U.S.

The Information Strategies Work Group, while addressing the 'information' end of water quality monitoring (i.e. data storage and retrieval, data analysis, reporting, and use of information by management), carefully integrates its activities with those of the National Water Quality Monitoring Council's Methods Board. The Work Group is also exploring the feasibility and practicality of developing a companion 'Board' supporting development of comparable data analysis and interpretation methods. Comparable data, common data sharing strategies and comparable methods for analyzing the data are fundamental to creation of consistent and accurate water quality information systems in support of water quality management and science.


The Water Information Strategies Work Group provides a framework and forum for defining and developing data analysis and reporting methods that incorporate the production of comparable information into monitoring system design. The framework permits a direct connection between information needs/expectations of water quality managers and the public and the ability of monitoring to produce information. The approach focuses on bringing experts together with work group members to:

  1. Define and specify water information goals;
  2. Benchmark current monitoring system design efforts;
  3. Coordinate with other groups working toward similar objectives (such as the "Monitoring Tailor-made" efforts in Europe and the information focused monitoring system design efforts in Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia); and
  4. Develop guidance for the monitoring community.

Where appropriate and feasible, pilot studies, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements with the private sector, and other collaborative efforts will be encouraged to enhance communication and use of more goal oriented monitoring system design methods.

Objectives and Tasks

The Information Strategies Work Group has completed an assessment of data analysis currently employed in water quality monitoring (Griffith, 2001). Given the lack of comparability in data analysis methods employed, the Work Group will continue its efforts to:

  1. Examine the evolving nature of water quality management in the United States and its changing expectations of monitoring.
  2. Create and communicate monitoring design guidance that connects the information produced by 'monitoring' to current questions of management while also acknowledging that management may be requesting information that cannot be produced with available financial resources or currently available science.

To meet the above objectives, three White Papers are currently under development.

  1. Monitoring to Support 21st Century Water Quality Management.
  2. Appraisal of Institutions and Practices Supporting Monitoring
  3. Exploring the Feasibility of Placing a General Monitoring System Design Checklist on the Internet

White Paper 1 will examine the changing face of water quality management. Water quality concerns include impacts of water diversions; evidence of coastal water quality deterioration; biological phenomenon such as endocrine disruption; amphibian and mollusk declines; as well as expectations associated with legal reinterpretation of Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act; source water protection plans and Consumer Confidence Reports required by the Safe Drinking Water Act; and refined definitions of standards compliance. These changes, and others, are greatly expanding the information that 'monitoring' needs to provide water quality managers. At the same time, the methods employed to analyze water quality data are not coordinated to generate consistent and comparable management information. The increased expectation for information, without coordination in how data are analyzed, is occurring at a time when monitoring budgets are decreasing. The objective of the first white paper is to assess the management changes and resulting monitoring impacts in order to find new strategies for connecting monitoring to the information needs of management.

White Paper 2 will examine the institutional and technological limitations that hinder the ability of monitoring to meet the evolving information needs of management. Much of its content will evolve from White Paper 1.

White Paper 3 will explore the feasibility of synthesizing existing monitoring system design information into a web based, information driven 'checklist' with links to the key sources of design guidance and support.

The checklist may include such steps as:

  1. Synthesize methods by which the 'information' needs for water quality management can be articulated to relate directly to the 'information' expectations placed upon water quality monitoring;
  2. Synthesize methods to select appropriate and cost effective water quality variables to convey the expected information;
  3. Specify alternative reporting methods and formats that convey water quality information from the monitoring program to those expecting the information;
  4. Identify appropriate data analysis methods (as well as interpretations of the data analysis results) that convert water quality data into the information expected, along with indications of the 'confidence' in the results (e.g. confidence intervals);
  5. Using the identified data analysis methods as a basis, establish appropriate (statistical?) design criteria for sample location, sampling frequency and number of samples;
  6. Relate water quality monitoring network design (sampling locations, variables measured, frequency of measurement and total number of observations) to data analysis methods; and
  7. Develop guidelines that assist designers of water quality monitoring programs in implementing goal-oriented monitoring.

The White Papers will be drafted under guidance of the Water Information Strategies Work Group. The work group and Council members will review early drafts of the papers. The papers will eventually be published in leading water-monitoring journals.

The Information Strategies Work Group have developed a proposal to create a Data Analysis Methods Board. Estimated cost of the Board is $750,000. The new Board would seek ways to introduce comparable methods into data analysis via statistical, graphical and tabular methods.

Topics for future consideration by the Information Strategies Work Group include:
  1. Providing a clearinghouse for public information about water quality conditions in the United States;
  2. Integrating water quality monitoring with stream gaging;
  3. 'Measuring' the success of past monitoring efforts in meeting original information goals and formulating approaches for monitoring to become accountable for the information it produces (per the Government Performance and Results Act
  4. Exploring public right-to-know implications of the current and future reauthorizations of the Clean Water Act.


General Accounting Office. 2000. Water quality: Key EPA and State decisions limited by inconsistent and incomplete data. GAO Report Number GAO/RCED-00-54, March 15, Washington, D.C.

Griffith, L.M., R.C. Ward, G.B. McBride, and J.C. Loftis. 2001. Data Analysis Considerations in Producing 'Comparable' Information for Water Quality Management Purposes'. Technical Report 01-01, National Water Quality Monitoring Council, USGS, Reston, Virginia.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). 1999. Murky Waters: Official Water Quality Reports are all Wet. Report Number 27, PEER, 2001 S Street, N.W., Suite 570, Washington, D.C. 20009-1125, May (http://www.peer.org)

Ward, R.C. 2000. Incorporating 'Sound Science' into Water Quality Monitoring. Paper Presented at the Virginia Water Monitoring Council's annual meeting in Roanoke, Virginia, Nov. 7, 2000.

Goal # 2: Data Methods and Comparability

Statement of Purpose

Provide a framework and a forum for comparing, evaluating, and promoting methods that produce data that can be compared between water-quality-monitoring programs.


The Methods and Data Comparability Board was established by the National Water Quality Monitoring Council to promote and coordinate voluntary participation of the monitoring community in the use of collection and analysis methods that produce water-quality-monitoring data of known and documented quality. Methods used for collection and analyses of physical, chemical, biological, and microbiological data from surface water, ground water and the unsaturated zone must include sufficient meta-data and quality assurance and control information to allow comparison of data sets collected and analyzed by different protocols.


The Methods Board will provide a framework and a forum for comparing, evaluating, and promoting methods that produce data that can be compared among water quality monitoring programs. The approach will focus on bringing experts together with Board members to define and specify goals, benchmark current associated efforts, coordinate with other groups working toward the same objectives, and develop guidance for the monitoring community. Where appropriate and feasible, pilot studies, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements with the private sector, and other collaborative efforts will be encouraged to enhance communication and use of comparable monitoring methods.

The Methods Board conducts its business through seven work groups: National Environmental Methods Index (NEMI); Performance Based Systems (PBMS); Laboratory and Field Accreditation; Water Quality Data Elements (WQDE); Biology, Nutrients, and Outreach. The work groups focus on products in the short term while planning strategically for the longer term. The relationship between these products and the Board's longer-term strategy is shown in the attached "Methods and Data Comparability Framework" chart. The information presented below provides current work group product status. This material is also summarized in the attached tabular format that includes resource estimates. Completion of the tasks described below is dependent on the availability of adequate resources, both internal and extramural.

Objectives and Tasks

NEMI - Construct the National Environmental Methods Index - This will be an Internet-based comparative compendium of sampling protocols and analytical methods. The index will be used to promote improved water quality decision-making by monitoring groups. NEMI will allow rapid communication and comparison of critical parameters for use with method selection and modifications, and allow comparison of data collected by various monitoring methods.

PBMS - Develop and conduct pilot tests for the implementation of a Performance-Based System - Based on a Board developed position paper that explains and defines a PBMS, pilot studies will be developed and implemented to test the performance-based process. Initial pilots selected for Board focus are:

Additionally, implementation aspects of PBMS will be investigated that includes use in a state regulatory context.

Laboratory and Field Accreditation - The issue of accreditation as it relates to analytical laboratories and field personnel is the focus of this work group.

Water Quality Data Elements - A set of core water quality data elements (metadata) that will facilitate data sharing between organizations will be developed and published for voluntary implementation.

Nutrients - This work group will develop input on nutrients to respond to the needs of the PBMS, NEMI, and WQDE work groups and to respond to other national nutrient methods issues.

Develop a Board nutrient criteria strategy white paper with. Nutrients - This work group will develop input on nutrients to respond to the needs of the PBMS, NEMI, and WQDE work groups and to respond to other national nutrient methods issues.

Biology - This work group will develop input on biology to respond to the needs of the PBMS, NEMI, and WQDE work groups and respond to other national biology methods issues.

Outreach - Develop and implement outreach activities and partnerships for the Board and its work groups.

Goal #3: Collaboration and Outreach

Statement of Purpose

To build and create partnerships to foster collaboration among the many elements of the water monitoring community, including federal agencies, state and local governments, Tribes, universities, volunteer groups, property owners, the private sector and other monitoring stakeholders. Provide guidance and assistance to the members of the Council so that they can serve as ambassadors to both coordinate monitoring and improve overall awareness of the value of monitoring. Assist Council members, work groups and the Methods Board with techniques to announce, distribute and promote their products for use by the monitoring community.


Many water quality monitoring organizations collect, analyze and distribute data and information required for decision-making. Collaboration at all levels is essential as no single agency can afford to gather the diverse information needed for informed decision-making. Through collaboration and cooperation, integration of the many organization efforts can be accomplished be establishing partnerships of multi-organizational groups at national, state, tribal and watershed levels. Outreach is essential to inform and engage the public about the quality of the Nation's water resources and to bridge the gap between science and society. Outreach enhances collaboration and educates the public and monitoring professional alike.

Work Plan Priority #1: Organize the 3rd National Water Quality Monitoring Conference (to be held in Madison Wisconsin in May 20th through 23rd, 2002.

Co-Chairs: Linda Green (URI), Charlie Peters (USGS), Chuck Spooner (EPA)
Site Logistics: David Denig-Chakroff (AMWA)
Participants: Tim Kubiak, Jim Cox, Lyle Cowles, Clifford Annis
Contractors: Ground Water Protection Council and Tetratech
Recommended Budget: $130,000


  1. Monthly conference calls will begin April 2001 and will be organized by C. Spooner.
  2. The conference will be titled "Water Quality Monitoring 2002: Building a Framework for the Future." The overarching themes will be collaboration, new and emerging technologies, and new expectations of monitoring.
  3. Conference steering committee (done: 17 Council members volunteered).
  4. The structure of the conference (done, per Charlie Peters "Framework for Water Quality Monitoring Coordination" document).
  5. Develop call for papers and distribute.
  6. Select papers and assign to sessions.

Work Plan Priority #2: Identify Federal agency water monitoring program gaps and overlaps related to both federal and non-federal lands.

Subcommittee: Tim Kubiak (FWS), Chuck Spooner (EPA), Lyle Cowles, Jim Cox
Recommended Budget: $4,000 (travel expenses for four subcommittee meetings)


  1. Create federal agency workgroup.
  2. Coordinate with anticipated ASIWPCA survey of State monitoring programs.
  3. Develop resolution to ACWI concerning gaps and overlaps in federal and state agency monitoring programs.

Work Plan Priority #3: Inventory and assess state, regional, and interstate watershed monitoring councils.

Subcommittee: Fred Banach, Lyle Cowles, Linda Green, Charlie Peters
Recommended Budget: No special needs


  1. Draft assessment form (completed in January, 2001)
  2. Distribute assessment to EPA regional monitoring coordinators to solicit monitoring council information in January 2001and to Council members at the Dallas 2001 meeting (completed in February, 2001)
  3. Summarize results.
  4. Develop clearinghouse for monitoring councils, which can be periodically updated.
    1. Provide guidance for groups interested in becoming councils.
    2. Provide guidance on whom to ask for help.

Work Plan Priority #4: Expand the NWQMC WEB Presence

Chairman: Toni Johnson (USGS)
Participants: Linda Green (URI), Cliff Annis (Merck), Charlie Peters (USGS)
Recommended Budget: No special needs


  1. Update and reorganize the NWQMC WEB site.
  2. Create a section for NWQMC recommended "Readings" or "Presentations"
  3. List upcoming related conferences
  4. Add a Council ambassador section (slide shows, brochures, fact sheets, council posters, and work group products

Work Plan Priority #5: Develop a series of NWQMC Fact Sheets

Chairman: Linda Green (URI), Fred Banach (CT DEP)
Technical Editor: Tetratech
Layout and Printing: USGS (Toni Johnson)
Recommended Budget: $10,000 for technical editor and $15,000 for printing costs.


  1. NWQMC - John Klein (USGS)
  2. Methods Board update - Charlie Peters (USGS)
  3. Council Workgroups - done by Workgroup Chairs
  4. Examples of Collaborative Monitoring - Wayne Hood (AZ DEQ)
  5. Monitoring Councils: Why needed and How to Create - Fred Banach (CT DEP), Charlie Peters (USGS), Emory Cleaves (MD GS), and Robert Ward (CSU)
  6. Five Reasons for Monitoring - discuss this with Robert Ward (CSU)
  7. Water Information Cycle - Linda Green (URI), discuss with Robert Ward (this was recommended by the Water Information Strategy Workgroup)
  8. Council slide show - Linda Green, Toni Johnson

Goal # 4: Watershed Components Interactions

Statement of Purpose

The mission of the Watershed Component Interactions Group is to facilitate a holistic understanding of the interactions among various components of watersheds and develop better multimedia monitoring strategies to assess these interactions.


Historically fragmented management of watersheds as discrete media of fresh surface water, saline surface water (estuarine and near coastal waters), ground water, (saturated and unsaturated zones), soil, sediments, and air deposition has resulted in inaccurate assessments of watersheds health. Management decisions made on basis of such assessments have precipitated damage to the environment in many cases. Further damage can be expected in the future unless a more comprehensive understanding of the interaction between watershed components is undertaken and institutionalized in this country's monitoring policies.


  1. Promote consistent methods of monitoring and assessing interactions between components of watersheds

  2. Identify impacts of ground water discharge into marine environment on water quality of bays, estuaries and near shore waters

  3. Evaluate impact of ground water withdraws on surface water and wetlands


  1. Published a report entitled "Conceptual frameworks for ground water quality monitoring," August 1997, Denver, Colorado.
  2. Initiated a draft for a fact sheet dealing with the "Role of the Geologic Framework in Maintaining the Health of Watersheds." Funding earmarked for turning that draft into a publishable fact sheet was never released. The development of such a fact sheet was again identified as a priority for this work group.

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