Expert Report

Letter Report Assessing the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program's Science Framework (2010)

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The U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program provides an understanding of U.S. water-quality conditions and how they change over time, and how natural features and human activities affect those conditions. This letter report provides near-term advice to NAWQA as it enters its third decade (Cycle 3) of water quality monitoring. The report recommends that activities in this cycle be organized around two drivers of indirect and direct stress water supplies and related ecosystems around the nation: (1) change in land use due to population and other demographic changes and (2) climate variability and change. Under these two broad drivers, the program should formulate specific, policy-relevant research questions it will address and use to guide scientific priorities. The report also encourages NAWQA to: further define and enhance the program to meet the principle of "national scale"; adhere to its original program design of probing water quality status, trends, and understanding; align with the new U.S. Geological Survey's Six Strategic Science Directions; and concentrate on studies where it continues to make a unique and substantial scientific contribution.

Key Messages

  • A national water quality program should include national scale surveillance, scenario development, and forecasting. Scenario development considers how changing land use conditions and climate, for example, may affect water quality in different settings.
  • NAWQA activities in Cycle 3 should be organized around two drivers of indirect and direct stress on water supplies and related ecosystems around the nation: (1) change in land use due to population and other demographic changes and (2) climate variability and change.
  • NAWQA is a unique program within a unique agency filling the niche of producing high quality national water quality data and interpretation. However, it should create a more focused, restructured, and clarified planning document for Cycle 3 of the NAWQA program.
  • NAWQA should further define and enhance its program to meet the principle of "national scale"; adhere to its original program design of probing water quality status, trends, and understanding; align with the new U.S. Geological Survey's Six Strategic Science Directions; and concentrate on studies where it continues to make a unique and substantial scientific contribution.
  • The Science Framework of the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program should first articulate NAWQA’s vision for water quality at the national scale and then explicitly describe the value of the program to the nation’s water policy and decision makers.