National Research Council Releases Report on NAWQA

The National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC) has recently published a report on the National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA).  The report, “Preparing for the third decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program”, summarizes major findings from a 2-year review that was requested by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to provide an outside and independent perspective on past accomplishments and to get advice on the current and future design and scope of the program.  You can access the full report at

This review of NAWQA, the sixth completed by the NRC since 1985, is especially timely, given the uncertain fiscal climate for the USGS and other governmental agencies.  Overall, the report is very positive and supportive.  Below are a few key passages and recommendations:

“The reason for the continuation of the NAWQA Program today echoes that which originally motivated the creation of the program: the need to characterize water quality at a national scale.  This need persists despite the program’s 20-year record of success because of the complex water-related issues facing the nation.  Over the past two decades, NAWQA has evolved from a program emphasizing water-quality data collection and trend assessment to one having the potential to forecast contaminant occurrence and aquatic degradation trends under multiple scenarios at nationally significant scales. Although many other successful efforts assess water quality at the local or regional level, NAWQA’s unique niche is that it is a National program, taking on work that other entities cannot do alone because of, for example, jurisdictional boundaries or available resources. Water-quality monitoring in Cycle 3 is important not only to NAWQA, the USGS, the Department of the Interior, or other agencies, but also to the nation. The federal government needs NAWQA in order to answer the question: ‘Is the nation’s water quality getting better or worse?’  This is particularly true given that observational networks to measure various water quality characteristics of the United States have been on the decline for a number of years.  Without measurement, there is no basis on which to evaluate whether policies are effective, no foundation on which to build water management decisions, and no vantage point from which to foresee and forestall water resource challenges.  The need for a national water quality assessment is as important, if not more so today, as when NAWQA was established.”

Some key recommendations for Cycle 3 that may be of interest are as follows:

  • “First and foremost, NAWQA’s primary focus should be on continuing the monitoring needed to support the national status and trends assessments of the nation’s water quality.”
  • “A focus of NAWQA efforts in Cycle 3, second only to basic monitoring activities, should be the support of NAWQA modeling initiatives.”

“NAWQA should maintain its interface with the other federal agencies and stakeholder groups and work towards leveraging collaborative resources.”