USGS Continues Planning for the Third Decade of NAWQA

Leaders of USGS’s National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) met with stakeholders recently to review their plans for the third decade of the NAQWA program.  This cycle will cover the period beginning in 2012.  The first 10 year cycle focused on monitoring as the program built its database of information on water quality issues.  In the second cycle, NAWQA continued monitoring and developed the modeling necessary to improve prediction of impacts of various factors on water resources.  For the third cycle of NAQWA, the program must continue to build on this base and determine how the program must evolve to meet the needs of the future.

During the stakeholder meeting, representatives of ASDWA and other water related organizations and agencies provided recommendations that the NAWQA planning team will pursue as they work to complete the initial draft of the Cycle 3 Science Plan, anticipated for external review this summer.  Stakeholders expressed strong support for:

  • Tracking and forecasting water quality and ecosystem response to a changing environment, including climate, land use, water use, and population, on four major issues, including excess nutrients, contaminants, sediment, and streamflow alteration.  As a result of discussions at the meeting, the Cycle 3 conceptual framework will more clearly highlight how these issues affect both human and ecosystem health.
  • Re-building the NAWQA monitoring networks, particularly for surface-water quality and ecology.  As a result of liaison discussions, Cycle 3 plans for networks will include justification for numbers of sites and sampling frequency as related to answering key questions and supporting modeling activities.
  • Contaminant selection: The Cycle 3 contaminant work group is systematically evaluating several thousand contaminants of potential importance for monitoring water, sediment, and fish tissue on the basis of existing human and aquatic health criteria, production volumes, occurrence, and environmental fate.  Given the interest in this topic NAWQA will schedule a separate briefing on this topic later this year to update stakeholders on the contaminant selection process.
  • A more robust national reference site network to provide information on relatively pristine ecological conditions and background concentrations of contaminants. This network is critical to assess and detect the effects of change, such as related to climate, on water resources.  As a result of discussions at the meeting, the network will be built in collaboration with other Programs, such as those with EPA Office of Water. Discussions will begin this summer through informal meetings
  • Detection and documentation of trends as emphasized in current Cycle 2 activities, as well as future activities that integrate monitoring, modeling, and understanding studies at multiple scales. Meeting participants agreed that such efforts are the foundation for Cycle 3 plans to forecast water-quality and ecosystem responses to large-scale changes in natural and human factors such as climate change and population growth.
  • Coordination among water programs, not only to leverage existing investments but to develop support for enhanced monitoring and assessment activities in this period of limited fiscal resources. A workshop was suggested to bring together key officials across federal and state water programs to delineate on-the-ground opportunities for collaboration. An initial planning discussion to put together this workshop will occur at the July meeting of the National Water Quality Monitoring Council in Reston, Virginia.
  • Continued discussion on decisions related to Cycle 3 priorities and associated budgets as Cycle 3 plans are completed.  A liaison meeting is planned in late summer to early fall of 2010 to discuss priority elements of the plan and scenarios for staging Cycle 3 activities over time.

ASDWA will continue to be involved in providing input to NAWQA’s planning team.  Additional information will be provided to states as the plans are completed and released.