USGS Briefing on Using SPARROW Models and Nutrient Management Decision Support Tools

On October 28th, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) held a Congressional briefing to present its new online regional models and an interactive decision support system that helps states, water managers, and Federal agencies use sound scientific information to assess the potential effectiveness of localized nutrient reduction strategies.

During the briefing, representatives from the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission and the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program provided an overview of how the model shows nutrient pollution occurrence in the contiguous 48 states.  Then, Wayne Anderson of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spoke about how his state has integrated its water quality monitoring data with these tools.  Lastly, Saya Qualls of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Water Pollution Control spoke about how her state is using these data and tools to work with agricultural partners to target nutrient management planning decisions in several river basins.  Questions and discussions during the briefing provided clarification on the content and capability of the tools, as follows:

  • The tool uses a mass balance approach to weigh nutrient inputs and outputs from the soil and the atmosphere.
  • The tool does not include land management actions (due to the unavailability of data) and is therefore not capable of linking these actions to changes in nutrient loads.
  • The tool is more accurate when looking at large areas of the U.S, and has much more uncertainty at smaller scales.
  • The tool is limited by monitoring data constraints and must have additional input from states and others to be used for state and regional decision-making.  For example, Tennessee is inputting nitrogen and phosphorous monitoring data from its wastewater treatment plants.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is using these models to link cause and effects (e.g., eutrophication and hypoxia) to estuaries and coastal waters.

USGS is planning to host one national and multiple regional training webinars, as well as develop videos to instruct users on how to use the models.  The first webinar will be held on December 2, 2011 from 2:00pm to 3:00pm (eastern).  Save the date – USGS will post registration information on its web site in the near future at:  To view the model results detailing nutrient conditions in each region and access the decision support system, visit the USGS web site HERE.

EPA Issues Pesticide General Permit
Congress this week failed to enact legislation to delay or prevent the effect of a court order requiring NPDES permits for application of pesticides over water.  To meet the court ordered deadline, EPA issued a Pesticide General Permit (PGP) to cover these situations.  In 2009, a Federal Appeals Court ruled (National Cotton Council v. EPA) that label restrictions were not adequate to protect U.S. waters from pesticide applications over or near these waters and NPDES permits would also be required.  The Court had extended the effective date for its ruling to allow EPA more time to issue the new permits but that extension expired on October 31st.  A bipartisan bill (H.R. 872) that would have eliminated the need for an additional NPDES permit passed the House earlier this year but failed to receive a vote in the Senate.  According to media reports, some Senate Democrats wanted to couple the change with additional research on the impact of pesticides on water.  They also charged Republicans with seeking to roll back other pesticide restrictions during the negotiations that finally broke down late last week.

EPA has issued a general permit for the application of pesticides to water but will delay enforcement for 120 days to allow time for education and assistance.  The Agency’s final PGP covers Operators that apply pesticides that result in discharges from the following use patterns: (1) mosquito and other flying insect pest control; (2) weed and algae control; (3) animal pest control; and (4) forest canopy pest control. The permit requires permittees to minimize pesticide discharges through the use of pest management measures and monitor for and report any adverse incidents.  The general permit will be in effect in states and territories where EPA implements the NPDES program directly.  The majority of states have delegated NPDES responsibility and will develop their own permits modeled after the EPA permit.

For additional information see EPA’s pesticide website.