Wednesday, July 24, 2013

USGS Briefing Describes How Health of Nation’s Streams Is Being Degraded

On July 19, over 80 attendees heard of new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) findings regarding the ecological health of the Nation’s streams during a public briefing at the U.S. Capitol.  USGS  National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program and state environmental agency representatives used the occasion to describe the results and implications of a national assessment on stream health, emphasizing the degradation of the nation's streams that the assessment cataloged, the importance of evaluating various stream health indicator and stress factors, and the implications the study findings have for establishing protection and restoration goals and priorities.

Among the key study findings noted at the briefing by Daren Carlise, Ecology Studies Coordinator for the NAWQA Program, were:
  • 83 percent of assessed streams across the country exhibited some degradation, as indicated by at least one altered biological community.
  • Assessments of stream health that are limited to the evaluation of a single biological community are likely to underestimate the impacts of land and water use on the health of the stream. 
  • Annual high or low stream flows were modified in 86 percent of the assessed streams.  Natural fluctuations of flows are critical to stream health because they build and maintain physical habitats, influence physical and chemical characteristics of water, and provide important life-stage cues for aquatic organisms.
  • Stream health is often reduced because of multiple factors, including increased temperatures, nutrient pollution or pesticide pollution.
  • Understanding the interacting natural and human factors that influence aquatic communities is essential to implementing effective management strategies and protecting stream health.
The PowerPoint presentations from the briefing have been posted on the NAWQA "Ecological Health in the Nation's Streams" web site.  That NAWQA report page also has direct links to the report, itself, along with links to a Fact SheetPress Release and Frequently Asked Questions.   A full video of the proceedings will be made available on-line within the next several weeks.

The briefing was moderated by Bill Wilber, Chief of the NAWQA Program, and speakers included not only Carlisle, but also David McKinney, Chief of Environmental Services, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and Peter Ode, Director, Water Pollution Control Laboratory, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

The event was co-sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Reps. Donna Edwards (D-4-MD) and Jim Moran (D-8-VA), and was held in cooperation with the USGS Office of Water Quality and NAWQA Program. Rep. Edwards welcomed the  attendees at the beginning of the briefing, stressing the importance of USGS research in providing a foundation for urban, green infrastructure and agricultural mitigation activities in large watersheds.  The event was co-hosted by the Northeast-Midwest Institute and the Water Environment Federation.

For more information or questions regarding the survey scope or results, you can visit this NAWQA project Internet site, or contact Bill Wilber at or 703-648-6878.

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