Expert Report

Letter Report Assessing the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program's Science Plan (2011)

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The U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program is poised to expand its current, nationally recognized role in monitoring water quality to the ability to forecast likely future conditions, according to a National Research Council report. The Program's plan to assess the dynamics of changes in water quality would tailor water sampling frequency and location to known events, such as the wet or dry spells associated with El Nino/La Nina, to reveal the source of trends in water quality. This dynamic strategy would make possible the forecasting of future trends of pollutants under different scenarios of land use, climate, and resource management, according to the report.

This letter report continues the National Research Council's review of NAWQA's Science Plan, the planning document intended to guide the program's future work, as requested by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Key Messages

  • The Science Plan and its priority of dynamic water quality monitoring present a compelling plan for the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. The Plan is technically sound and the Program has the scientific capability to achieve its objectives. However, the concept of dynamic water quality monitoring needs further development.
  • If only traditional water quality monitoring is maintained, the U.S. Geological Survey will lag behind in providing the necessary science to solve water problems driven by population growth, changes in land use, and climate variability.
  • The dynamic water quality sampling approach will capture data on attributes of the events, develop knowledge about relationships between stresses on water quality and their effects, and lead to a fine-tuned understanding of the causes of change in water quality.
  • NAWQA's infrastructure in place, interdisciplinary and collaborative experience, state-of-the-art analytical capability, and modeling capacity make it uniquely positioned to lead a dynamic national synthesis of water quality information and understanding.
  • Further, with its history of collaborative experience, the Program could serve as a useful resource and model to assist in the realignment of the U.S. Geological Survey to multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary missions.